Helping Employees in a Mental Health Emergency

Think about all the plans and protocols you have in place for the safety and well-being of your workforce. You probably have a fire escape plan. A natural disaster plan. And (though you might not want to think about it) an active shooter plan.

But what happens if an employee has a mental health emergency, as some 5.5 million people (or more) do each year? When crisis strikes, every minute matters — both for the safety of the employee in need and for the safety of others. That’s why it’s important to plan ahead for mental health emergencies, just as you would for any other medical event that could take place in the office.

When you prepare for the worst to happen on your watch, you ensure that employees feel supported and have the tools to connect with immediate resources and providers who can help. Skipping out on this area of planning may overlook a critical component of workplace wellness — with potentially serious, and even devastating, consequences.

4 Elements of Mental Health Crisis Planning

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), a mental health crisis can mean a range of things, from breaking the law to unintentional (or intentional) self-injury or harm to others. But because no two situations are exactly alike, it can be helpful to develop a crisis plan broad enough not to be pigeonholed into one circumstance but specific enough to offer concrete and actionable support during emergencies, whether those emergencies happen at work or at home.

As for what goes into it, consider these four elements:

  1. Mental health training. Your staff may be trained in first aid or CPR, but what about recognizing mental health issues? That’s the question behind Mental Health First Aid, a collaboration between the National Council for Behavioral Health and the Missouri Department of Mental Health. An eight-hour training course, the curriculum helps employees spot and address telltale signs of a crisis with evidence-based interventions. Find a class near you.
  2. EAP engagement. Despite the mental health benefits that employee assistance plans (EAPs) can provide, a mere 7% of workers use them. If your benefits package includes an EAP, let employees know the full scope of those benefits with literature in the break room, reminders in the employee newsletter, flyers in bathroom stalls — wherever and whenever you can to make sure they’re familiar with the benefit when they need it.
  3. Signs and symptoms.
    Sometimes, the signs may be hard to detect during a crisis. An employee might have a panic attack in the bathroom, for example, but not tell anyone. However, there are usually clues leading up to a mental health emergency, such as poor work from a usually high performer, increased absences, late arrivals or abnormal behavior, among other signs and symptoms.
  4. Phone and text hotlines. Keep the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline available at all times for employees: 1-800-273-TALK. For those who would prefer to text rather than speak to a person over the phone, NAMI also offers a crisis text line: Text NAMI to 741-741. Both options provide free 24/7 crisis support.

Plan With Prevention in Mind

Emergency response planning should be just one part of a comprehensive effort to support mental health in the workplace. A key component of that effort is early detection — and early intervention.

That’s because giving employees the resources they need early can make all the difference to their well-being. The company’s bottom line could benefit as well: Employees with unresolved depression, for example, experience a 35% decrease in productivity.

Cultivating a supportive environment that prioritizes mental health is a big part of that — including minimizing stressful work conditions and building in schedule flexibility, mental health days and telemedicine mental health benefits when possible.

Above all, the best thing you can do is to help destigmatize mental health in the workplace. Employees who have a heart attack wouldn’t feel embarrassed to return to work after their ordeal. Why should a panic attack be any different? Target openness and acceptance of mental health issues, and create a culture where they’re embraced, rather than hushed or feared.

That way, whether it’s an emergency or just another day, all employees can feel supported at all times — as they should be.

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