Editor’s note: Jan Pierce is the coordinator of the Employee Assistance Program and is a licensed mental health provider. The Employee Assistance Program is a part of employee benefits offered through Human Resources.
Dear CSU Community,
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, yet one valuable lesson that the last several years have brought into sharp focus is that the mental health of our community – students, faculty and staff – must be a priority every month, and not just in May.
Why is this important? Our individual mental health and well-being is correlated with the wellness of our community.
President McConnell’s focus on well-being initiatives in the Courageous Strategic Transformation is proof that CSU is committed to striving toward making the mental health and well-being of individual employees and our collective CSU community a top priority.
As the Employee Assistance Program coordinator, I have coordinated the University’s program, which offers a multitude of services, including helping connect employees to mental health counseling. As I think about how to acknowledge and honor our CSU community’s mental health, both for each individual and for our community as a whole, I realize that words are not always the best conduit for understanding people’s individual experience with mental health, or the experience of various individuals based on their diverse identities.
Many people often struggle to put into words their own experience with mental health, because they may doubt that they will be understood, or fear that their stories and feelings will be judged by others.
Leading with curiosity through listening is necessary in bringing compassionate understanding to another person’s experience. Curiosity gives us a starting point to check in with our colleagues, leaders and students. We frequently ask each other about physical health and check in if we know a person we are in a relationship with has suffered a physical injury or illness.
We can – and I hope you will — do the same in asking about the mental health of those we work with while honoring the privacy of their confidentially shared health information.
If you know that a student or colleague has suffered a death of a loved one, has had a particularly challenging personal or professional experience, or you are aware that a community member has been struggling with their mental health, we can compassionately ask about their experience and then listen. We do not need to fix anything or give suggestions. We can simply listen without judgement and be present as they share, and then honor their stories.
You may ask, “What if I do not know if someone is struggling with their mental health?”
We do not need to be experts to help a student or colleague – or even a friend or loved one — in a time of need. You may have noticed a change in behavior such as withdrawal, taking more sick time, increased negativity or grumpy responses during interactions, a change in appearance, or truancy from work or class. In general, any shift in baseline behavior and patterns for a person may signal a change in the person’s mental health. The simplest and most caring course of action is to reach out and ask if the person is okay and needs assistance.
If a colleague does share with you that they are struggling, please tell them about the Employee Assistance Program. Most employees are eligible for six free counseling sessions with a therapist in their community or via an online appointment through these benefits. Additionally, employees have access to SilverCloud, an online tool that offers self-guided therapeutic modules to support health and wellbeing. Students who pay fees can access a wide range of services including mental health support services through the CSU Health Network.
You also may want to consider notifying Tell Someone if you are concerned about a student or employee. And you are always welcome to call me in the Human Resources office if you are concerned about an employee and believe that I can help you find ways to help your colleague. (As always, if you believe someone is an immediate risk to their own safety or the safety of someone else, please call 9-1-1.)
The Health Network provides a great resource called Notice and Respond. Notice and Respond is an educational tool that can help you understand how mental health concerns may show up for others and how you can respond in ways that are helpful. In addition to valuable information on their website, units and groups across the University can request a Notice and Respond training on how to intervene when someone may need help.
In coming back around to the original initiative of acknowledging and honoring May as Mental Health Awareness Month. First and foremost, we are a healthier community if we practice compassionate listening. We can take our efforts further by risking those caring conversations and then knowing where people can go for support. Lastly, we can continue to destigmatize mental health by gaining knowledge and education.
Webinars for Mental Health Awareness Month
The Employee Assistance Program is offering two webinars during May in honor of Mental Health Awareness Month.
Please check the links for more information on webinars and additional resources for well-being support.