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Mental health spelled out in Scrabble tiles

Supporting Employee Mental Health: A New Module for Employers to Make Real Change

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The Center for Health, Work & Environment (CHWE) at the Colorado School of Public Health has partnered with the University of Colorado Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center to develop and launch the Workplace Mental Health Module, an online toolkit designed for employers wanting to raise awareness and improve the mental health of their employees.

COVID-19 has significantly impacted workers and the business community. Employees and business owners have experienced tremendous stress due to shutdowns, school closures, financial losses and family illness. Almost half of Americans are suffering from mental health issues due to the pandemic.

The University of Colorado has remained dedicated to supporting mental health initiatives throughout its centers. Out of an understanding that workers need robust mental health support now more than ever, the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus Chancellor’s Office formally supported this initiative. 

“At the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, escalating our work in mental health and wellness is among our top priorities, and that includes finding innovative ways to promote mental health among our own faculty, staff and students,” said Chancellor Donald M. Elliman, “This new module serves as a valuable tool for employers seeking to take tangible steps toward addressing mental health in the workplace, and at a particularly critical time.”

“Even pre-pandemic, our Center was hearing from employers across Colorado and nationally that employee mental health was their number one priority,” says Lili Tenney, DrPH, associate director for outreach and practice at CHWE. “Over the past year, mental health has become a public health crisis and we will continue through our work and collaborations to provide employers with the best resources to address it.” 

The Workplace Mental Health Module was created as a direct response to this need, heightened by COVID-19, to better support mental health in workplaces. Rooted in the framework of Total Worker Health®, and the understanding that employers have an immense opportunity to impact the mental health of their employees, the module begins with a self-assessment survey. The survey helps organizations evaluate the management and workplace strategies they have in place to address mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and substance use.

After completing the survey, organizations receive instant feedback with evidence-based recommendations on ways their company can enhance its current programs and policies. Participants receive one-on-one advising to set goals and determine the steps to make real change in their workplace. The toolkit also includes an online training and a resource guide.  

“We wanted to create a tool that was approachable and practical for all organizations, regardless of industry or size,” says David Shapiro, program manager for Health Links, CHWE’s employer advising program that distributes the module. “We believe the module will be a welcome help for employers and their health and safety champions looking to improve their workplace culture now and through whatever the future brings.”

“Through this partnership, we have been able to apply what we as behavioral health experts know to be most important for supporting employee mental health,” says Matt MishKind, PhD, deputy director for the Johnson Depression Center. “This new toolkit is the first or next step for organizations to ensure they are helping individuals that are struggling."

Mental Health of America was an early partner who reviewed the module survey and has endorsed the toolkit’s credibility to address workplace mental health issues. “We applaud Health Links and its Workplace Mental Health Module for taking a holistic approach to employee health,” says Taylor Adams, director of workplace mental health at Mental Health America. “As more and more organizations begin to think about their workplace mental health strategy, we need tools like this in place to measure the efficacy of that strategy and refine policies accordingly.” 

This initiative was also supported by the Grant or Cooperative Agreement Number, U19OH011227, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.