Our guest is Darcy Gruttadaro, Director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health at the American Psychiatric Association Foundation. Darcy’s organization works with companies of all sizes, giving them tools to support the mental health of their employees. She says that having a warm and social atmosphere in the workplace is more important than ever to keep people relaxed during these stressful times.
Darcy explains how her organization works with employers of all sizes to develop programs, tools, and resources to support the mental health and wellbeing of employees and their families. (2:30)
Darcy talks about how she got into her profession. She has family members with serious mental health issues. She was a lawyer and had worked with some hospital clients related to their psychiatric units, work that she found interesting and important. She moved to Washington D.C. to work for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), doing policy work mostly related to the public sector. She then joined the American Psychiatric Association Foundation, where she works with private employers to improve their mental health programs. (3:40)
Darcy says in the two and half years before COVID-19 hit in March of 2020, the number of companies taking an interest in the mental health of their employees was growing. However, when COVID-19 came into the forefront of people’s lives, the interest of companies in the mental health of their employees increased dramatically. (5:00)
Darcy says that her organization provides employers with support around raising mental health awareness, eradicating stigma, and breaking down various barriers that stop people from getting help when they need it. It also works with employers to develop strategies to build a more mentally healthy company culture, so employees feel more safe getting mental help when they need it. Finally, it works to make mental health therapy accessible. She says most health insurance provides access to mental health care, but it’s important for employers to help employees navigate the mental health system, which is often complicated. (5:50)
Darcy compares the mental health issues faced by people who are mandated to work at home to those faced by people mandated to work in factories during the current pandemic. She says since March of 2020, the CDC has been collecting weekly pulse data showing that nationally the number of people experiencing symptoms of anxiety or depression has tripled. (9:30)
Darcy discusses data that shows many people prefer not to work at home because they find the social connection with colleagues in the workplace to be comforting. On the other hand, she says many people go to work feeling anxious about COVID-19 but hide their feelings from colleagues and employers because they think they will look weak or flawed. She says when people allow negative stigma to prevent them getting the mental help they need it can lead to suicide. She says openness to talking about mental health in manufacturing environments is not prevalent enough. (11:10)
Darcy says that depression impacts women at a higher rate than it impacts men. She says she thinks it’s likely there is greater risk for substance abuse among men working in physical jobs, who may be using alcohol or painkillers to cope with pain suffered on the job. She says the stoic culture of people in trades such as manufacturing makes it less likely that they will get the mental help they need, but she admits she is not sure what research has found in this scenario. (13:20)
Darcy advises that business owners and leaders not be afraid to show some vulnerability to their employees because it can make them feel more at ease with their own mental issues. Also, it helps for leaders to simply tell people they realize the difficult and stressful times everyone is going through. She says it’s important for people to get professional help as soon as possible, because the longer people allow mental health issues to linger, the greater toll they take. (14:50)
Darcy talks about traveling through Texas where she saw an entire crew at a construction site stretching together before work. She talks about a utility company that had workers do group meditation to quiet their minds, help them focus, and prevent injury. She says management taking time for employees to do self-care activities demonstrates to them it cares about them, which has positive effects on moral. (18:00)
Darcy says during our current stressful time period it is more important than ever for people at work to be social with one another because people by nature need social connection. She prescribes that managers reach out to employees working remotely via video teleconference to tell them that they know they are going through difficult times. Even if people role their eyes or poo poo the gesture, it still makes employees feel cared about. (19:20)
Noah asks Darcy her predictions about widespread mental health when the pandemic is over and things “get back to normal.” She says there will be some strong concerns about mental health for at least three years, particularly for kids or teens, whose lives were drastically disrupted in 2020. However she says that after this difficult period people may have also developed resilience to difficult situations and learned new coping strategies. She says it will be important for managers to remind employees how they have weathered the storm together but still need need to stick together. (21:30)
Darcy talks about mental health in several different countries. Canada has voluntary workplace mental health standards that employers are asked to follow, which California is currently trying to emulate. In the United Kingdom the Royal Family has taken an interest in creating organizations that support workplace mental health. (24:00)
Darcy says to her the word “happiness” means feeling settled, feeling like you’re contributing to the world, having purpose, and looking forward to every day (26:30)
Noah asks Darcy what she learned last week. She said she relearned how much work (and fun) it is to get a new puppy. (27:00)
To learn more about the Center for Workplace Mental Health at the American Psychiatric Association Foundation go to workplacementalhealth.org.
Question: Do you prefer working around a lot of people, or very few people?