NH businesses help employees’ mental health as awareness rises

Fidelity Investments expands its internal offerings for free therapist sessions.

Manufacturer Hypertherm saw enrollment triple in its employee assistance program.

And Riverbend Community Mental Health set up “peer discussion groups” via Zoom for staff to share their concerns with outside therapists.

Several New Hampshire employers added or advertised existing mental health services as their employees face increased stress and isolation during the coronavirus pandemic while working remotely or reconfiguring offices.

The changed world has put more emphasis on mental wellness in the workplace.

“The reality is that COVID has had a profound impact on people’s mental health,” said Susan Stearns, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-New Hampshire.

Stearns called the pandemic a “mass social traumatic event”.

Susan L. Stearns is executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-New Hampshire.

“One thing isolation really reinforced is that we are social animals,” Stearns said. “There’s a lot of social interaction in the workplace, isn’t there?”

The pandemic changed how workers carried out their tasks and interacted with each other.

Nearly 1 in 5 American workers rated their mental health as fair or poor in a Gallup poll conducted last summer — and they were often absent from work.

“Employees with estimated, fair or poor mental health over a 12-month period are estimated to have about 12 days of unplanned absence annually, compared to 2.5 days for all other workers,” Gallup said.

Missed work costs the US economy an estimated $47.6 billion annually in lost productivity.

Gallup said that four out of 10 American workers reported that their work had an extremely negative (7%) or somewhat negative (33%) impact on their mental health.

At Riverbend Community Mental Health in Concord, management hired chair masseuses at times to give its 400-person workforce breaks.

“It made people realize that they deserve half an hour of their day to devote self-care to us,” said Jaime Corwin, vice president of human resources. “It’s been so popular, we’ll try to do it twice a year.”

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No age group is immune to mental health issues

Workplace mental health issues are not limited to any one generation.

Sandy Demarest has seen older workers experience feelings of anxiety, stress and fear during the pandemic.

“Many older workers, in theory, prefer to work remotely because of anxiety about the replacement of in-person working,” said Demarest, a mid-career and retirement coach at Demarest Direction in Milford.

“On the other hand, loneliness and isolation are always higher for people later in life,” she said. “So by working remotely, the benefits of connection through work take on a whole new look and feel.”

Mid-career and retirement coach Sandy Demarest of Demarest Direction in Milford said,
“Many older workers, in theory, prefer to work remotely because of anxiety about replacing in-person work,” said Sandy Demarest, a mid-career and retirement coach at Demarest Direction in Milford.
Allegra Bowerman / Union Leader

Some employers are challenged with finding the right balance of making workers feel safe, healthy and engaged, she said.

Some old workers have changed direction.

“Many of my clients have retired early and are making a new focus on entrepreneurial options,” Demarest said. “While there may be risks involved, he believes there are also risks in staying at a company that is not addressing the above challenges. With people living longer and working longer hours, employers and Evaluation by both the employee is important to make the best path.

Younger workers also struggle with loneliness.

Stay Work Play, an organization that works to attract and retain young residents in New Hampshire, has data that even before the pandemic, 21% of young Granite Staters “reported being lonely,” saying that they didn’t have any friends or family members,” said Will Stewart, the group’s executive director.

“Loneliness and isolation have only increased during the pandemic as working from home has become more widespread,” Stewart said.

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Former NH Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick, who is currently with Dartmouth Health, wants to change the culture around mental health.

Courtesy of Waldy Diez, Dartmouth Health

However, younger residents seem more open to seeking professional help.

“We’re definitely hearing younger workers talk about mental health more in recent years. It seems like there’s less of a stigma with Millennials and Gen Z in particular, not only publicly discussing their mental health discussing health challenges, but also seeking professional help through therapy,” Stewart said.

“More and more employers are acknowledging the mental health needs of their employees, but most are still trying to figure out how to best support these needs,” Stewart said.

“I don’t see all employers who have set up support systems within the workplace,” Stewart said, “listen to people who are experiencing difficulties about appointments for mental health services.” “I find that younger employees are more apt to discuss their challenges with their peers in person or on social media, but this type of peer support tends to diminish with age.”

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There is a need for more counseling and mental health days

Advocates encourage more people to seek professional help.

NAMI’s Stearns said recently, “It puts a real strain on the system because we have more people seeking care.”

“The reality is we had a mental health crisis on our hands before COVID and it’s only just exacerbated,” Stearns said. “I say this because we had a shortage of workforce before COVID. COVID made it worse.

Corwin in Riverbend acknowledged the issue.

“There are certainly waiting lists all over the state for mental health services, but I think there are a lot of variables in wait times, so I can’t really say what the average would be,” Corwin said.

“We’re seeing more and more employers where they’re specifically (saying) paid time off can be used as a mental health day,” Stearns said.

Employers can provide relief to employees who may need a day off for stress or anxiety.

This, she said, would “help break down the stigma”.

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Stearns said she sees more employers reaching out to her organization for training on how to respond to employees who “overestimate their employer’s role in resolving mental health issues.”

Fidelity Investments, which employs more than 7,000 New Hampshire-based workers as of October, set aside two “quiet rooms” for reflection on the Merrimack campus, said spokesman Stephen Austin.

Some employees are also eligible to work with a wellness coach for free.

The financial services firm also added more walking paths and a bike-sharing program.

“Fidelity recognizes that the mental health landscape has evolved significantly over the past few years, and as such, we continue to monitor evolving offerings to best support our associates and their loved ones,” Megan Bourke, Fidelity The head of benefits for, said in an email.

Concern has risen at all levels, from the federal government to local companies

The mental health of workers was an important enough topic for the federal government to issue a report.

The “US Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Wellness” said the pandemic has changed the nature of work and how workers relate to their jobs.

“The pandemic struck a chord with many workers, who no longer feel that sacrificing their health, families and communities for work is an acceptable compromise,” the report said. “Organizations are also increasingly aware of another trade-off: When workers’ mental health suffers, so does workplace productivity, creativity and retention.”

Stress can increase a person’s risk for diabetes and other chronic health conditions. According to the report, chronic stress has also been linked to a higher risk of developing diseases such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, obesity, cancer and autoimmune diseases.

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It suggested greater employee autonomy in how work is done, increased access to paid leave, providing a living wage, and building a culture of gratitude and recognition.

Hypertherm, which employs 1,100 in the Upper Valley and 1,900 globally, saw the number of workers using its employee assistance program triple from 2019 to 2021. The program provides free, confidential mental health treatment over the phone for employees and their family members, as well as access to other resources to help with other issues.

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Jim Rowe, senior director of HR, said, “It could be from an increased need, or it could be that there is greater awareness and, therefore, greater acceptance of accessing support resources for issues such as depression, anxiety and substance use disorders. Ho.” Center of Excellence on Hyperthermia.

Rowe said, “We view the fact that people are seeking treatment and services as positive, and we are pleased that we have forged strong partnerships with for-profit partners and community organizations that provide these vital services. “

Best Ways to Help Someone with Suicidal Thoughts

Psychiatrist Stacy Friedenthal knows about people with suicidal thoughts.

She tried to kill herself twice nearly three decades ago when she was in her 20s.

“My mind was in a really bad place,” Friedenthal said during a video interview from Colorado, where she lives. “I really thought that would relieve my parents of a burden.”

Today, Friedenthal is recognized nationally for her expertise in helping people who are struggling with their mental health and who have suicidal thoughts.

Friedenthal said, “I think it gave me an insight and empathy for suicidal experiences that I wouldn’t have (otherwise).”

She is the author of the new book out this month: “Caring for Someone You Love with Suicidal Thoughts: What Family, Friends, and Partners Can Say and Do.”

Friedenthal said, “One of the main messages of this is to be able to listen to someone without immediately trying to snap them out of their feelings or immediately appease them or change their mind.”

“We know that people with suicidal thoughts are more likely to confide in friends and family than to go to a mental health professional,” Friedenthal said.

“Some people will disagree with me on this, but I think you shouldn’t call the police unless you absolutely have to,” she said.

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“I think it can cause more harm. It can prevent the person from confiding in other people going forward, so I recommend not taking action until the person is on the verge of taking action to end their life.” Whether they’ve already done something similar, for example, overdosed on pills, unless they’re really in immediate danger, I think it’s important to have the conversation.”

Friedenthal, the mother of a young adult son, said she worries about today’s youth.

“His life was much harder than when I was a young adult and I was still suicidal.”

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