Your Wellness Plan’s Missing Piece

Wellness plans have transformed, grown and expanded over the last decade. Many companies offer an expanded list of resources and services reaching much farther than traditional health risk assessments, disease management programs and online resources. Many provide gym memberships, diet support and even contributions to local charities.

However, there’s one piece that is missing from the majority of wellness plans. Wellness plans continue to be void of mental health resources and services. What’s stopping wellness administrators and management from including this documented and growing need?

Business leaders and human resource professionals simply don’t know the facts.

Employees and employers are bombarded with daily messages about the grave effects of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Their effects are very real and cause not only mountains of heartache to the individuals suffering but also lost productivity, high insurance premiums and other costs to businesses. Mental illness has the same devastating effects if not more.

What are the facts about the disease?

·         In a given year, 18.8 million American adults will suffer from a depressive illness.*

·         There is one death by suicide in the U.S. every 12.3 minutes.**

·         Nearly 2/3 of all people with a diagnosable mental health illness do not seek treatment. ***

Mental illness can cause employees to be tired, have trouble concentrating and need additional supervision. It can lead to poor judgment and decision making, tense work relationships, mistakes and accidents.

How does mental illness directly affect the workplace?

·         Depression ranks among the top three workplace problems for employee assistance professionals, following only family crisis and stress.****

·         Approximately 80% of persons with depression reported some level of functional impairment and 27% reported serious difficulties in work and home life. *****

·         Each year, depression affects at least 10 million people, often during their most productive years, between the ages of 25 and 44.******

·         Nearly 63% of the $83 billion in total economic costs associated with depression annually are due to workplace losses.*******

Industry leaders need to form partnerships to get training and assistance.

What should your organization do? Team with an expert to get training for your human resource team. Learn to recognize the symptoms. It’s also important to learn what depression and mental illness is not. Learn the real effects of mental illness particular to specific work environments.

Understand the effect of stigma and how it stops employees from seeking treatment, lowers productivity and hurts the bottom line.  And, learn about the many resources available through health care providers, local organizations and numerous online sources.

Invest in training for both the human resource team and key management. Work with a trainer to form a plan to train others, implement resources and to measure the effects of mental illness and the successes of implemented plans.

As with any initiative a well-thought plan is needed.

An expert can help you not only learn about mental illness and the effects on the workplace but can guide you in creating a plan specific for your business.

A plan should take into account your organizational design, communication methods and culture. Your plan should be implemented in stages starting with foundational training and then thought out resources and support strategies.

As with any plan you need to measure the results. Your plan should include an initial assessment of what’s happening in your business now. This can then be analyzed with metrics after a program has been implemented so you can see the real results. This ROI can be used to show management the need and effectiveness of your mental health initiative.

So where do you start? Acknowledge the problem. Work with an expert to assess your organization. Get key individuals trained and start training others.  Determine what resources and strategies are right to your specific business. Then start creating a plan and an implementation schedule.  Don’t forget to include a plan for tracking and measuring ROI. And above all, commit to the program and simply get to work!

*Mental Illness Research Association 2002

**Suicide Awareness Voices of Education 2014

***National Association for Mental Illness 2013

****Mental Health America

*****Center for Disease Control and Prevention 2008

******National Worksite Program

*******University of Michigan Health System Depression System


Pitfalls to Creating a Mental Health Ministry

When I first set out to start a group at church to provide hope to those dealing with mental illness I knew the road ahead would be challenging but I didn’t know the specific bumps I would have to overcome. Not only did I have to face my fears and hesitation but I also had to create a program and atmosphere where others could do the same.  There were three major hurdles to jump over; stigma and shame, sensitivity and communication, and support and resources.

Stigma & Shame

Flip to about any chapter in the Bible and you will find stories where Jesus went out of his way to bring those in the darkness into the light.  The woman at the well, the lady with the long hair and Rahab are just a few.  Who did Jesus minister to? He ministered to the sick, the outcasts and the poor; three populations where mental illness is widespread. Mental illness is very prevalent and weaves its way through the lonely and afflicted and therefore should be at the top of our ministries just as Jesus did.

However, in the church stigma surrounding mental illness still runs rampant and therefore shame is abundant. Some still believe mental illness can be prayed away or the root of mental illness is sin. Neither is farther from the truth and yet both cause so much damage to those suffering with a mental illness. Stigma feeds fear.

When I started the ministry people were hesitant to come let alone speak and participate. I later found out that some had circled the parking lot continuously trying to build up the courage to park the car and step inside. Interest would be expressed in the form of emails yet chairs remained empty.

Why? The answer is stigma within the church. Stigma that has created so much shame people are afraid to share and minister to others. Stigma creates an environment of avoiding eyes, shameful stares and whispered words instead of open arms, grace, support and comfort.

Sensitivity & Communication

When I decided to start a mental health ministry stress began to mount from the onset. What words would create the perfect description of the ministry in order for people to overcome their fears and join? I wrote and re-wrote and prayed and prayed again over the words that would land in the bulletin and website.

One message made completely clear was a person could share as much or as little as they wanted about their personal experiences. No one would be made to talk if they weren’t comfortable in doing so. This led to some extended moments of silence! With some patience God worked peace within the participants’ hearts and slowly people started letting small pieces of their hearts show.

Words are very powerful. I struggled in my responses to inquiries about the ministry. I stumbled over my words when we were together. And, I continually tried to find the right balance and amount of communication in between our meetings wanting to give as much encouragement as possible without pushing anyone away.

Support & Resources

I had taken the leap and invited people to join a group at church ministering to those affected by mental illness. Now what? I started scurrying through books and the Internet searching for lesson plans and devotions. What did I find? Very little! My miniscule findings set me into a panic.

How was I going to structure this group with such a sensitive topic and what were we going to talk about? Rick Warren and his wife Kay have been pioneers in this ministry but beyond that there are few and far between resources for setting up such a ministry. So I set out to create my own.

I decided the group would need something to inspire discussion and stamp out fear. I tackled this by starting each group with an article about mental health. Each week I found a current article from a magazine, newspaper or online source that shared a insights about mental health. Some were about faith, some were about good or bad experiences but most included someone sharing their story including successes and struggles with mental illness.

Starting each discussion with reviewing an article proved to be a successful way to break down barriers and open up comfortable communication. We would discuss opinions and feelings the article created and it often would open the door to sharing personal experiences.

We would then dig into the meat of the devotion. It usually consisted either of a list of questions or Bible verses related to mental illness. Sometimes we would discuss David, Elijah or other people from the Bible. The structure was very open and often one question or verse would lead to a long discussion. Often one meeting would only cover two to three questions.

I learned not to stress too much over the structure or the amount of material I had prepared. God had a way of taking control and leading the conversation in ways the group needed most.

Want To Start Your Own Mental Health Ministry?

There are a lot of stumbling blocks to building a mental health ministry and the devil is ready to prey on each of these opportunities. However, taking a leap of faith and just going for it provides God-filled hope to individuals who desperately need it.

The biggest obstacle is battling fear and stigma that so often weighs down people with mental illness. As a mental illness ministry leader you must be diligent in fighting your own frustration and expectations. Patience is a must and prayer is essential. Once people start participating God can do miracles.

Don’t worry too much over material. Have a basic plan prepared and then let the conversation lead the way. Start creating your own material based on the needs of the group you are working with. Don’t worry and trust God to show you the way.

So don’t give up hope in your mental illness ministry! Be persistent and encourage people each week to attend. Whether there is one person or an entire group, know you are making a difference and giving hope and light to someone desperately trying to climb out of a dark and hopeless hole.