Editorial and Opinion

Employer initiatives assist mental health

May 12, 2017
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Mental health issues, ranging from depression to suicide and bipolar disorder among others, are estimated to cost businesses — especially small business owners — millions each year. The month of May has been designated as Mental Health Awareness Month, focusing on the many nonprofit services available in communities to assist those with diseases and illnesses of brain, but little information reaches employers who are often in the best position as everyday observers to assist employees find needed resources. The number of individuals affected with such illnesses has been established as 1 in 4. Were the same number of cardiac-risk employees working side-by-side, emergency numbers and defibrillators might be within reach of every workstation.

Kent, Ottawa and Kalamazoo counties have and are participating in innovative programs proving to be successful — and saving thousands of dollars on issues related to homelessness, hospitalization, jail and court costs, as well as employment costs. Ottawa County is offering Adult Mental Health First Aid Training, open to all community members but especially targeting families, co-workers, friends and employers. The program’s five-step action plan prepares participants how to reach out and offer appropriate support or interact with persons experiencing a mental health crisis. The program first stated nationally in 2008 at the onset of the Great Recession and has trained more than 550,000 individuals across the country.

Last month, the Business Journal reported on the launch of a $33,000 study in Kent County’s 17th Circuit Court to establish a mental health court, focused on intervention and treatment rather than incarceration. The program is a partnership of the court, mental health authority Network 180, the State Court Administrative Office, county prosecutor, public defender and mental health service providers.

The program has been initiated in Kalamazoo and Allegan counties. Allegan’s mental health court was established in 2009, and court judges told the Business Journal they’ve been pleased with the results. The prosecutor’s office makes recommendations as to who should be referred to the court, the county mental health office determines eligibility and rather than incarceration, the judge can offer the offender programs that assist management of the conditions. Allegan County Judge Joseph Skocelas emphasized, “With mental health court, the reason they’re here is because of those underlying problems. It’s to treat the underlying thing that’s causing contact with the criminal justice system. It’s treatment instead of punishment. And it’s totally voluntary.”

Some Fortune 100 executives from across sectors and industries are beginning to form coalitions to directly address how employers can provide education and training resources and create policies to combat the increasing numbers of affected individuals. One Mind at Work is convening that group toward a larger initiative in September.

As employers become more knowledgeable with workplace initiatives, the impact in health care systems, courts and jails can be significantly decreased. So, too, will the cost to business.

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