Investing in the Well-being of the Workforce

Support begins with acknowledging mental health needs

By Regina Chandler, MSOD, Executive Director, Workplace Wellness

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One of the most meaningful ways for an organization to convey care for its employees is to voice support for their mental health, and to back that up with resources. Mental and emotional health is vital to a person’s overall well-being and to their ability to thrive professionally and personally.

But what do we mean when we speak about mental health, and what are some effective and appropriate ways for leaders to influence that on their teams?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as a state of well-being in which an individual realizes personal abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to the world around them. When we keep this definition in mind, we can easily see how healthcare institutions and other organizations benefit by investing attention in helping their team members attain needed resources.

Support begins with acknowledging mental health needs

At Cleveland Clinic, we embrace a holistic approach that begins with recognizing that all of our employees are caregivers. The well-being of those caregivers includes their body, spirit, emotions and mind.

As with many healthcare organizations, we have invested even more on our caregivers’ mental health needs since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The immense stress of the times made it imperative that we address mental health, both among top leadership and across the enterprise. Real support begins with acknowledging the need.

Mental health also was a key focus of Cleveland Clinic’s recent 2021 Patient Experience: Empathy and Innovation Digital Summit. Our event featured Cleveland Cavaliers power forward/center Kevin Love, who founded the Kevin Love Fund to help normalize the conversation surrounding mental health. He shared his experience with anxiety and depression.

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Additionally, across the health system, our leaders have been encouraging caregivers to acknowledge mental and emotional health needs and to use the resources available to them. Amy Freadling, PhD, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Caring for Caregivers program, says that even within a healthcare environment, it’s common for people to be unaware of the prevalence of conditions that hinder mental health. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately one in four American adults meets the criteria for a mental health disorder. Common signs of a mental health condition include:

  • Long-lasting sadness or irritability
  • Extremely high and low moods
  • Excessive fear, worry or anxiety
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and activities
  • Significant changes in eating or sleeping habits

Freadling explains that individuals may avoid seeking help out of fear of counseling or treatment, or lack of awareness of available resources. Cleveland Clinic CEO and President Tom Mihaljevic, MD, recently shared one caregiver’s personal mental health story and how Cleveland Clinic supported her through her challenges. The sharing of her story by our top leader sends a strong message to our caregivers, helping to reduce anxiety and stigma and increase the likelihood that others will seek help if they are in need.

In a video forum, the same Cleveland Clinic caregiver spoke with Chief Caregiver Officer K. Kelly Hancock, DNP, RN, NE-BC, FAAN, Leo Pozuelo, MD, Center Director for Cleveland Clinic Adult Behavioral Health and Freadling, about the help she received at Cleveland Clinic Marymount Hospital.

Cleveland Clinic offers its caregivers a number of resources, including:

  • A 24-hour support hotline.
  • On-demand virtual mental well-being sessions.
  • An employee assistance program (assessment, counseling and referrals for employees and dependent family members).
  • Professional staff assistance program (assessment, counseling and resources for professional staff).
  • Clarity eCoaching and emotional well-being program (evidence-based skill-building and coaching designed to improve overall emotional health and well-being).
  • Well-being resources (including online articles and seminars on mental health topics such as managing anxious thoughts and dealing with work stress).

Organizations that can offer all or even some of these resources will gain the most benefit only if they communicate their existence to new recruits, and regularly remind all employees how to access these tools.

Tips for leaders to further support caregiver mental health

In addition to specific internal programs or resources, healthcare leaders can:

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  • Provide education on mental health and well-being. Direct team members to learn more about mental health in general through websites like Mental Health America, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and the National Institute of Mental Health.

  • Encourage individuals to support those around them. When they become familiar with common signs of a mental health concern, they may be able to better recognize when people in their lives are experiencing compromised mental well-being. Recognizing these difficulties will encourage them to offer empathy and support, such as connecting others with applicable support resources or care.

  • Promote self-care to maintain and strengthen mental well-being. This includes getting sufficient sleep, eating healthy, engaging in physical activity and participating in enjoyable activities.

It’s equally important for leaders to focus on their own mental health. At Cleveland Clinic, our leaders are encouraged to prioritize self-care, talk about and verbalize their self-care techniques and experiences with other caregivers, and serve as mental health role models.

In addition to conducting personal annual well-being check-ins to help determine well-being goals, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, executives often participated in activities such as walking meetings or Dr. Mihaljevic’s run with the CEO and yoga with the CEO events, which we look forward to getting back to in the future. Running is proven to help with cell growth for learning and memory and yoga helps with cognitive learning and heart health.

Each year, Cleveland Clinic professional staff are also asked to allocate one day as a well-being day that is devoted to a self-care activity in support of their health and well-being.

Many executives, like Executive Chief Nursing Officer Meredith Foxx, MSN, MBA, APRN, NEA-BC, also promote healthier work-life balances for themselves and their employees. In this article, Foxx discusses the importance of caregivers balancing work life and home life. She recently added a statement to her email signature that reads, “My working hours and yours may be different. Please don’t feel obligated to reply outside of your normal working hours.”

For leaders looking for a comprehensive road map to executive health and well-being, Cleveland Clinic offers an executive health program inclusive of preventive medicine executive health physicians, registered nurses and specialists in exercise physiology, nutrition, personal coaching and more.

When we have the tools needed to support our mental and emotional well-being, we can be at our best for ourselves, our organizations and those we serve.