Mental Health in the Workplace

By: Elizabeth Landry

Over the past several years, many in the U.S. have suffered poor mental health and suicide rates have remained steady. Working people tend to be affected by these issues at a high rate. A rise in remote employment leading to feelings of isolation as well as high-stress, fast-paced work environments are contributing factors to these patterns.

According to Dr. Omar Colon, Medical Director of Behavioral Services at Oswego Health, there are several warning signs employers can monitor for to help recognize workers who may be suffering and at risk for suicide. Arriving late to work, working excessive hours, increased stress at work or at home, mentioning access to weapons and generally any behavior out of the norm for a specific person are all red flags indicating an employee may be suffering poor mental health.

Addressing these issues in the workplace can seem daunting due to the unfortunate stigma that often surrounds mental health and suicide. However, Dr. Colon emphasized it’s important for gatekeepers in the workplace, such as managers and HR personnel, to help break down this stigma by simply asking their employees how they’re feeling and offering a welcoming environment where workers can feel comfortable having discussions about what’s happening in their lives.

“When we see these red flags in our work, we have to pay attention as gatekeepers and be ready to receive these messages. We need to be thinking, ‘Wait a minute – does this person need some help? Are we making it easy for this person to access the help they need?’” explained Dr. Colon.
In addition to identifying when employees may be at risk for poor mental health or even suicide, employers can strive to boost mental well being in the workplace by encouraging employees to practice good mental health habits when they encounter stressful situations.

“We’ve been focused on creating a culture where it’s OK to take a break from stress at work and come back refreshed, even if that means just a five-minute walk,” said Alissa Viscome, Employee Engagement Manager at Oswego Health.

The COVID pandemic has also created additional mental health-related difficulties in the workplace. An increase in remote employment, virtual meetings, masks and physical occupancy limitations have all made it more difficult for employees to create important bonds with one another.

The staff at Oswego Health has been working to create more opportunities for employees to connect with one another, even if those connections must be virtual. Employees at Oswego Health have participated in activities like sharing photos of pets with one another on National Pet Day and collectively taking part in self-care opportunities during the different themed months of the “Action for Happiness” calendar. Although these initiatives may seem simple, they can make a big impact that encourages interpersonal connections and helps boost mental wellness among teams in the workplace.

Residents of Oswego County and beyond can find treatment resources at one of several inpatient and outpatient facilities, including the brand-new Lakeview Center for Mental Health and Wellness. Additionally, the Oswego Health website offers a Wellness Library where employers can find educational awareness articles about mental health and suicide as well as practical tips to help support general mental well being both in the workplace and at home.