This Year’s ADA Anniversary Marks A Time to Make Certain We Are Not Losing Ground | Blog by Merrill Friedman, Sr. Director, Disability Policy Engagement, Anthem

Governor Tom Ridge, Merrill Friedman of Anthem, and Carol Glazer of NOD smiling and holding an award
Merrill Friedman receives NOD’s Leading Disability Employer award on behalf of Anthem, with NOD Chairman Governor Tom Ridge and President Carol Glazer

By Merrill Friedman, Sr. Director, Disability Policy Engagement from Anthem, Inc.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

I had planned to pause in 2020 to honor the ADA, thinking about what it has meant for people with disabilities and, of course, what work needs to be done to continue moving forward. I looked forward to the flurry of events, seeing people from across the country, and setting some expectations for the next 30 years. Then, we saw the onset of a pandemic, COVID-19. While I, and others here at Anthem, will absolutely include activities to mark this milestone, I find myself thinking that instead of so much focus on gaining ground, we need to worry we don’t lose any.

Exposure to COVID-19 for people with disabilities has several implications, including the threat of health care rationing, restrictions on loved ones having advocates to support them in the hospital, their DSPs and PCAs not being considered “essential workers,” or not having equitable access to PPE. This, along with the staggering unemployment rate, means we need to make sure people with disabilities do not lose the progress hard-won since the ADA was passed 30 years ago.

People with disabilities are more than twice as likely as those without disabilities to experience unemployment. And they are often among the first to lose their jobs when the economy sours; as the economy turns around, it is not necessarily those same workers who get hired back.

There are 60 million people with disabilities in the United States, and those numbers will only grow because of COVID-19. Many survivors will have lasting physical and mental health conditions, which means the unemployment figures could rise even further.

What is frustrating is that high joblessness does not have to be part of the story for people with disabilities. Given their life experiences, they can lead the way for all of us on working effectively from home. They have advocated long before the pandemic that given support, flexibility, and access to equipment and broadband, they can thrive like other employees. This has been our experience at Anthem.

We started preparing for COVID-19 early and with great thoughtfulness. By the time the pandemic was overwhelming the public and shelter-in-place orders were rolling out, 99 percent of our employees were in the process of being supported to work remotely with the tools they needed.

We made sure everyone had the resources necessary to be successful. I am very proud of what the company has done and continues to do. If an employee with a disability requires an accommodation while working from home, we provide it as we would if they were in the office. We have also ensured focus and precision in supporting people with disabilities who access their health care through Anthem plans so they can maintain access to critical supports like their providers, food, and other services.

Mental health support during the pandemic is also critical for all of our associates, who in addition to coping with stress and uncertainty in their own lives, internalize the stress and anxiety that our members share when we speak with them. We recognized that our health care services needed to be easily accessible to both associates and members and expanded telehealth and increased the options for physical, mental health, substance use, and social supports through this platform.

During Mental Health Awareness Month in May, we created #MeMinutes, a reminder for employees to think about their own self-care and to take time for themselves for the purpose of individual health and wellbeing and to better support other people. We know that we only move through this challenging time if we work together.

What has been so interesting is that many of the practices we have adopted recently have been recommended by our colleagues with disabilities for years, showing how important it is to listen to the experiences of people with disabilities.

My hope is that we continue to build on the knowledge and practice gained during this time of crisis and consider when recruiting people with disabilities that they know how to adapt to different work environments effectively with the right supports. Let’s not lose what we have learned as we have navigated the pandemic so we can continue to level the playing field toward true inclusive employment, realizing the promise of the ADA. If that happens, we will all have reason to pause and celebrate this year.


Anthem is a longtime member of the NOD Corporate Leadership Council and a sponsor of NOD’s Look Closer awareness campaign. For its exemplary disability employment practices, NOD has recognized Anthem as a Leading Disability Employer Seal every year since the award’s inception in 2016.  

 

 

 

 

NOD Corporate Leadership Council Members Address Mental Health In The Workplace During The COVID-19 Pandemic

NEW YORK (April 16, 2020) – The National Organization on Disability (NOD) today hosted a Webcast for its Corporate Leadership Council members entitled “Mental Health Disabilities in the Workplace: Moving from Conversation to Action”. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our world, an increasing number of employees may be facing mental health challenges ranging from social isolation to the stress and anxiety, caused by not knowing when this health crisis will end. This timely and important discussion focused on how employers are working to combat the stigma associated with mental health disabilities in the workplace.

“The National Organization on Disability works alongside global corporate leaders to create diverse and inclusive workplaces, including breaking down the mental health stigma,” said NOD President Carol Glazer.  “This unprecedented health crisis requires us to collectively take action and openly talk about mental health disabilities. If employers fail to create more inclusive cultures that allow employees to feel comfortable asking for accommodations and supports as they cope with this pandemic, they will be doing a disservice to their workforce and to their brand more broadly.”

A recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation revealed half of Americans believe COVID-19 is impacting their mental health, which is impacting all aspects of life – work included.

The webcast, moderated by Karen Brown, Global Diversity & Inclusion Executive Consultant, Bridge Arrow, featured an esteemed line-up of corporate and civic leaders including:

  • Anupa Iyer, Policy Advisor, Office of Federal Operations, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  • Craig Kramer, Mental Health Ambassador and Chair, Global Campaign for Mental Health, in Neuroscience External Affairs at Janssen R&D, a Johnson & Johnson company
  • Mark Riley, GM for Innovation, Dow Jones

These leaders spoke about the importance of promoting safe environments so employees have the confidence to speak up about their mental health and, in turn, managers can provide accommodations and supports. They also shared systemic changes companies can make to increase productivity in the workplace and have a healthier organization overall.


Corporate Leadership Council Members: See more video and access exclusive resources in the Members’ Only Portal.

Not a member of the Council? Find out about the many benefits of joining today!

The U.S. is One of the Most Stressed Countries in the World: Do you know if your colleague’s mental health is okay?

NOD and DiversityInc Recognize Mental Health Awareness Month

By Jayme S. Ganey, Senior Writer, DiversityInc, and Carol Glazer, President of National Organization on Disability

A recent Gallop poll reported that the US is one of the most stressed nations in the world. More than half of Americans (55%) reported feeling stress during a lot of the day, 45% said they worried a lot, and 22% said they “felt anger a lot,” Gallup reports.

Some might say, “Why care?” But you only need to look at productivity at work, sick time, disengagement, and the myriad companies under fire for mistreatment or lack of protection of workers to understand why this is important.

While many workers are merely debilitated by the stress in the workplace, others are actually experiencing mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress. Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re shining a light on one of the most prevalent, but still taboo health conditions in the country.

Employees Hold Back, And It’s Costly

The reality is one in five people has a mental health condition, making them the single greatest cause of worker disability – and lost productivity – in the U.S., with costs exceeding $193 billion, according to NAMI[JA1].

NAMI research shows 62% of missed work days can be attributed to a mental health condition. The same study shows that in the case of depression, the disorder is linked to an average absenteeism rate of 2.5 days per month, resulting in average costs of $3,540-$4,600 per year, per employee.

“Mental illness will account for more than half of the economic burden of all chronic diseases, more than cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases combined, according to another NAMI study. We’re talking about trillions of dollars, mostly in the form of lost productivity and unplanned absences.

According to a report that the National Organization on Disability advised on for the WMI, employees with invisible disabilities (many of them mental health conditions ) are less engaged than their counterparts with visible disabilities, likely because the latter workers access the accommodations they need at higher rates. Given the stigma associated with mental illness, it’s natural that workers will hold back on disclosing, and getting the accommodations they need.

And without the right supports, there can be dire consequences for employees—including increasing symptoms, loss of a job, loss of home, incarceration, self or other harm and even suicide. These issues certainly (and profoundly) affect families and communities; but they also significantly impact workplaces, because the majority of Americans spend one-third of their adult life at work.

Who Could Be In Need?

While celebrities like Taraji P. Henson, Dwayne the Rock Johnson, and others have gone public and encouraged people to get the help that they need, what about the everyday person? If you are sitting in a room with four other people at your office, one of you on average is dealing with a mental health condition. “

Mental illness manifests itself in as many ways as the human psyche is complex. It affects housewives, corporate executives, world-class athletes, and caregivers without discrimination. As we’ve reported previously if you’re a caregiver of a child with chronic medical issues, your risk increases by orders of magnitude. Roughly 27% of U.S. children live with chronic health conditions; and nearly half of their mothers have symptoms of anxiety, depression, PTSD, or all three.

One of this article’s co-authors, Carol Glazer, has told her story of caregiving for a son with chronic medical problems and how that contributed to her diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“I became a different person. More cautious, more prone to worry. At times impatient. Or angry with the wrong people. Fear is a constant din in the background… Clearly and unmistakably, through my son’s many life and death surgeries, related complications and repeated hospitalizations, I’d experienced trauma. I would come home exhausted from work only to have to then check in with the caretaker, doctor, and therapists. And I acknowledge that as a middle class working professional, I had supports that others do not.”

The S Word

It’s clear that mental health struggles are not selective in who they impact. Moreover, more than half of the people diagnosed with mental health conditions will seek treatment, even though the monetary costs of treatment are negligible.

The reason people don’t seek this treatment has to do with the stigma of mental illness, which is alive and well in our society and workplaces. Stigma is not exclusive to individuals who don’t understand mental illness. It’s practiced by parents and family members, teachers, the media, health insurers, and even healthcare providers and policymakers.

When you add it all up, in the coming decades, mental illness will account for more than half of the economic burden of all chronic diseases, more than cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases combined….

We’re talking about trillions of dollars, mostly in the form of lost productivity and unplanned absences.

And with 10X as many people with mental illness in prisons as in psychiatric facilities, this is a public health crisis of tsunami proportions.

While mental health is becoming a more prevalent conversation in the media than ever before, the unsensational stories that fuel the staggering statistics are still not helping the conversation become normal in everyday life without stigma.

Particularly in the workplace, where stigma is a known barrier, people often don’t ask for and receive help because they don’t feel they have permission or safety to speak up. And coworkers are similarly afraid of the unknown. So while an employee would no more watch a colleague trip and fall without asking whether they are OK, they should not be afraid to ask a co-worker whom they suspect is depressed or over anxious or overstressed, if they are OK.

Millennials are more apt to talk about it as they grew up with conversations about it, but navigating the discussion across generations and at work is still a challenge. Generational ideas, cultural ideas, as well as one’s own self-awareness can impede sharing.

So How Do You Start the Conversation?

We would call on people to practice empathy—putting yourself in others positions and think about how you’d want to be treated if that were your situation.

Felicia Nursmen, managing director of employer services at the National Organization on Disability, said: “Recognize your own bias. Focus on people. And increase your exposure to bias,” she said. “What’s most important is that we ask the right questions and that we’re having the right conversations.”

And while employers generally cannot ask someone if they have a disability or the severity of one, you can ask if they whether they need an accommodation to get their jobs done.

NOD’s Corporate Leadership Council has companies who are working to create spaces so that employees are less reluctant to share their stories, thus allowing their managers to create more inclusive workspaces, and benefit from their diverse talents and perspectives. They produced guidelines: 6 Key Tips to Address Mental Health in your Workplace, from the NOD Corporate Leadership Council.

And there are companies leading the pack that you can learn from, including health care company and DiversityInc Hall of Famer Kaiser Permanente, whose “total health” perspective is a model for other companies.

EY, another DiversityInc Hall of Famer, birthed “R u ok?”, an ERG movement out of a Mental Health Summit they attended in 2015. It works through trainings and conversations to open conversations about mental health among employees.

Lori Golden, EY America’s Talent Team abilities strategy leader, discusses the initial outcome of EY’s ability to talk about mental health openly and frankly: r u ok? is “caring about people as well as achieving business goals.” Most rewarding for Golden is that so many people are saying they are grateful that “my organization has the courage to do this.”

There is a protocol covering how to go about asking “R u ok?”: (1) Notice signs of change in the individual who needs help. (2) Ask “r u ok?“ to start the conversation, and see whether this opens up the topic for further discussion. (3) Listen for key information that helps you gain perspective about the situation; this includes what is not said. Finally, (4) act to remedy matters by involving EY Assist or firm leadership to foster a conversation in a responsible way and get the individual/team the help they need. The role of anyone who leads the conversation is not to diagnose but rather to express care and concern when someone has shown a pattern of change in behavior.

So how will you start the conversation this month?

 

Originally published on DiversityInc.com

What do the Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain Suicides Mean in the Workplace?

How many of your employees or colleagues at work are struggling with mental health issues? Do you know? Have you even considered it?

Photographs of Kate Spade at left and Anthony Bourdain at right

June 20, 2018 | By Carol Glazer, President of the National Organization on Disability (NOD)

The tragic and untimely deaths by suicide of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain should serve as a reminder that even the most talented people, who appear to be holding it all together better than many of us, also can be affected by mental illness, a leading cause of suicide.

How many of your employees or colleagues at work are struggling with mental health issues? Do you know? Have you even considered it?

Mental health conditions are the single greatest cause of worker disability in the U.S., with costs exceeding $193 billion, according to NAMI.

Yet while the costs of mental illness left untreated are high, pharmacological advances and new therapeutic techniques have dramatically reduced the costs of treating mental health disorders — like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (the latter of which affects one out of every five veterans  of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) — in the workforce.

According to a report that NOD advised on for the WMI, employees with invisible disabilities (such as mental health issues) are often less engaged than their counterparts with visible disabilities, likely because the latter workers access the accommodations they need at higher rates. Given the stigma associated with mental illness, it’s natural that workers will hold back on disclosing, and getting the accommodations they need.

From an employer’s perspective, the need for a successful strategy to deal with mental illness in the workplace is clear. And accommodations for someone with a mental illness are often simple — and inexpensive, such as flexibility in scheduling to accommodate medical appointments.

You can get started with these 6 Key Tips to Address Mental Health in your Workplace, from the NOD Corporate Leadership Council. And there are companies leading the pack that you can learn from, including health care company and DiversityInc Hall of Famer Kaiser Permanente, whose “total health” perspective is a model for other companies.

Today, revealing and accommodating a mental illness is a win-win for the employee and the employer. I found it incredibly helpful to share my own story related to mental illness. My hope is that more employers will take the steps to create a culture where more employees can do the same, in part by starting the conversation. Take care of your employees, because some are suffering from mental illness and the results can be catastrophic.

Read on DiversityInc

Five Questions with Dr. Ronald Copeland of Kaiser Permanente on Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace

Kaiser Permanente’s focus on reducing mental health stigma for consumers and members also applies to its own employees. The National Organization on Disability caught up with Ron Copeland, MD, to understand how to best create a supportive and inclusive workplace for people who are experiencing a mental health condition.   

Ronald Copeland, MD, FACS, is senior vice president, National Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Strategy and Policy and chief equity, inclusion, and diversity officer at Kaiser Permanente. Dr. Copeland has been a practicing physician and surgeon within the Kaiser Permanente health system for 25 years and since 2013 has championed Kaiser Permanente’s equity, inclusion, and diversity agenda as a critical element of the organization’s overall strategic goals.

Dr. Copeland joined the NOD Board of Directors in 2015, and in 2016 Kaiser Permanente became a President’s Circle member of the NOD Corporate Leadership Council, a group of 50+ companies committed to advancing disability inclusion in the workplace. Because of Kaiser Permanente’s exemplary employment practices for people with disabilities, NOD named the company a 2017 Leading Disability Employer™.

Dr. Copeland served as a panelist at an NOD Corporate Leadership Council roundtable dedicated to starting a dialogue and challenging outdated thinking on mental health in the workplace. NOD asked Dr. Copeland five key questions to find out why employers shouldn’t overlook mental health in the workplace, how to reduce stigma and improve employee engagement, and what Kaiser Permanente is doing to build an inclusive culture.

Dr. Copeland speaking, alongside two panelists, at an NOD Corporate Leadership Council event

1. Why is it as important to focus on mental health in the workplace as physical wellbeing?

Mental health conditions are on the rise globally. An estimated 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression, and the World Health Organization has predicted that by 2020 depression will be the second-leading cause of disease globally. Depression and other mental health conditions are a leading cause of workplace disability in the form of lost productivity because of how common they are–1 out of every 5 people are suffering from a mental health condition at any given time–and because they tend to occur when people are young. Three-quarters of mental health conditions arise before the age of 24. While these statistics seem daunting, it’s important to remember most of these conditions are treatable.

However, mental health too often is treated as separate from physical health. One of Kaiser Permanente’s core beliefs is that total health is more than freedom from physical affliction — it’s about mind, body, and spirit. It’s the philosophy we live and breathe. Part of our mission is to achieve total health for our employees, members, and the communities we serve. With respect to our employees, we know it’s difficult to reach their full potential if they are experiencing physical or mental challenges. If we are committed to our employees achieving total health, we must treat mental health as importantly as we treat physical health, by creating an environment where people feel supported and psychologically safe, and where they have access to mental health services. There are resources available. There is hope.

2. Why is there still a stigma about mental health? Are you seeing a cultural sea change at all?

Stigma about mental health, driven by fear and misunderstanding, occurs because people often view conditions such as depression as character flaws instead of as treatable illnesses.  Stigma has been largely absent from the dialog about how the health care industry and society overall should address the mental health epidemic. The stigma around mental health has led to harmful and biased ways of describing people with mental health conditions, and feeds the stereotypes that people living with mental health conditions are less than whole, abnormal, or dangerous.

As part of our “Find Your Words,” public health awareness campaign, which is designed to help people start conversations around mental health issues, Kaiser Permanente conducted the first national consumer poll focused on stigma to assess attitudes and perceptions toward mental health. It uncovered some interesting contradictions: While 70 percent of respondents said people are more open about discussing mental health conditions compared to 10 years ago, more than half the respondents felt a family member or friend was struggling with a mental health issue, but not telling them.

As health care providers, we must make it safe and routine to talk with patients about mental health. It is as relevant as talking about chest pain or a broken limb. It is part of a patient’s total health.

3. What does the research show about prioritizing mental health and inclusion?

Among the reasons employers can no longer afford to remain silent about mental health in the workplace is the direct connection between employees’ mental health and the organization’s bottom line. Research demonstrates that employees struggling with mental health conditions directly impact workplace productivity and performance:

  • Mental health conditions are the single greatest cause of worker disability in the U.S.
  • 62% of missed work days can be attributed to mental health conditions.
  • Employees with untreated mental health conditions use non-psychiatric health care services 3 times more than those who do get treatment.
  • Depressed employees are 20% to 40% more likely to become unemployed because of their condition.
  • People with depression have a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

But, again, we want people to understand there is hope. Treatment for depression and mental health conditions works – but people who feel the need to keep their depression hidden are far less likely to seek help. That is why we want to reduce the stigma around mental health conditions, so those who could benefit from treatment aren’t afraid to seek it out.

4. What is Kaiser Permanente doing to make the workplace inclusive for people with disabilities, including mental health issues?

Creating an inclusive environment in the workplace helps employees feel safe and supported. If we’re interested in the total health and wellness of our employees and patients, we must have the same level of empathy about a person’s mental health as we do for their physical health. One of the ways we do this at Kaiser Permanente is through training and education around equity, inclusion, and diversity. Our Leading Inclusively program provides leaders and their teams the opportunity to gain knowledge, adopt attitudes, develop skills, and modify behaviors that contribute to Kaiser Permanente’s goal of continuously becoming more inclusive.

Additionally, assessment and measurement play a significant role in how Kaiser Permanente approaches making our workplace culture more inclusive for people with disabilities, including mental health conditions. We participate in benchmarking and undergo several external assessments to identify improvement opportunities and effective workplace inclusion practices we can implement.

Specific to mental health conditions – our commitment to advancing the conversation on mental health and wellness runs throughout our organization and beyond. Our Chairman and CEO  Bernard J. Tyson is actively leading a global dialogue about mental health, leading a panel on the topic at the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and participating in a discussion at Brainstorm Health 2018 on ways to reduce stigma around mental health issues, integrate mental and physical care, and build resilient communities.

Kaiser Permanente is piloting a Mental Health First Aid training course to empower employees and the community to respond compassionately to someone experiencing a mental health challenge.

And as part of our Find Your Words campaign, Kaiser Permanente partnered with national oral history project StoryCorps. We asked for volunteers – both inside and outside our organization – to share their personal experiences with mental health conditions. The conversations are powerful, and everyone who participated said they did it because they wanted to help others. Sharing these conversations builds awareness and empathy around mental health conditions and the hope is listeners will be inspired to step out and share as well.

5. What are things we all can do to create a more inclusive environment for those struggling with mental health issues?

We all can show compassion and empathy for those with mental health conditions. We can also talk more openly about mental health by sharing personal stories, which help those struggling with mental health issues feel less isolated. We can also reduce stigma by learning and sharing facts about mental health conditions and being mindful of the words we use to avoid reinforcing stigma and causing harm. By raising awareness about the mental health epidemic and making it safe for people to seek help, we can move toward achieving total health for all.

How Is Your Company Addressing this Trillion Dollar Issue? 6 key takeaways from NOD’s Corporate Leadership Council Roundtable on Mental Health

Ignoring mental health in your workplace can affect productivity and the bottom line

On November 1st, the National Organization on Disability held our Corporate Leadership Council Fall Luncheon and Roundtable. Hosted at Sony’s New York offices, the event centered on the topic of mental health in the workplace.

Members of our Board of Directors and executives from nearly 40 companies held a candid conversation, heard from business leaders, and participated in an insightful Q&A where successful strategies were discussed to accommodate and support employees with mental illness in the workplace.

Thought bubbles reading: "1 in 5 adults has a mental health condition"; "It's time we talk about it"; National Organization on Disability logo

“Mental illness is the single biggest cause of disability worldwide,” said Craig Kramer, a panelist at the event and Chair of Johnson & Johnson’s Global Campaign on Mental Health. “One out of four people will have a clinically diagnosable mental illness at some point in their lives,” he continued. Another 20 to 25% of the population will be caregivers to loved ones with a mental illness.

The costs are staggering. “In the coming decades, mental illness will account for more than half of the economic burden of all chronic diseases, more than cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases combined…. It’s trillions of dollars,” said Kramer.

From an employer’s perspective, the need for a successful strategy to deal with mental illness in the workplace is clear. But what are the most effective ways to confront this challenge? Roundtable participants discussed a wide range of ideas and success stories aimed at de-stigmatizing mental health and incorporating the issue into wider conversations around talent, productivity, and inclusion.

6 Key Takeaways on Mental Health in the Workplace:

How Is Your Company Addressing this Trillion Dollar Issue? 6 Key Takeaways to address mental health and boost productivity. 1. Be Empathetic; 2. Tell Stories; 3. Model from the Top; 4. Communicate Peer-to-Peer; 5. Be Flexible; 6. Build a Trustworthy EAP

  1. Be empathetic. “The most important workplace practice [with respect to mental health] is empathy,” said NOD President Carol Glazer. Empathy is critical for normalizing conversations about mental health, but also for maximizing productivity. “A feeling of psychological safety is important,” said Lori Golden, a panelist and Abilities Strategy Leader for Ernst & Young; and this sense of safety requires the empathy of colleagues to flourish.
  2. Tell stories. “Nothing is more activating of empathy than for people to share their powerful stories,” said Dr. Ronald Copeland, NOD Board member and Senior Vice President of National Diversity and Inclusion Strategy and Policy and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer for Kaiser Permanente. Copeland’s organization partners with the renowned nonprofit, Story Corps, to capture the stories of Kaiser Permanente employees, and also provides a platform on the company intranet for employees to communicate in a safe space. Both Craig Kramer and Lori Golden also shared examples of how their companies provide opportunities to share their stories and “start the conversation, break the silence,” as Kramer put it.
  3. Model from the top. Carol Glazer received a standing ovation at the luncheon for her account of her own experiences with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This type of executive-level modeling sends a powerful message that a company is committed to improving mental health for all employees. Lori Golden shared how EY had experienced great success with a program where top-level managers host office-specific events and share stories of mental illness or addiction that they are personally connected to – either about their colleagues or loved ones or, in a surprisingly high number of instances, about themselves. Senior leadership setting the example conveys that this is a forum in which employees can feel comfortable sharing.
  4. Communicate peer-to-peer. “We all know that there’s greater trust of our own peers than there is of the organization,” said Lori Golden. So to build trust, EY “took it to the grass roots,” creating formal opportunities for employees to have conversations about mental health and asking other ERGs to co-sponsor these events. Craig Kramer also noted that Johnson & Johnson had simply folded mental health issues into their global disability ERGs, eventually building the world’s second-largest mental health ERG by piggy-backing on existing infrastructure and leveraging existing connections.
  5. Be flexible. Accommodating [the fact that people live busy, complex lives] gets you better buy-in…and keeps production pretty high,” suggested Dr. Copeland. A representative from one Council company concurred, explaining how their company has recently instituted a new policy of paid time off for caregivers on top of federally-funded leave. “Being in a culture in which we measure what you produce and not whether you show up in person all day, every day, and where if you can’t be there, you negotiate how the deliverables will get done and in what time frame…is immensely helpful to people who themselves have mental illness issues or addiction or are caring for those who do and may need some flexibility,” summarized Lori Golden.
  6. Build a trustworthy Employee Action Plan. Many employees do not access or even trust their organization’s internal resources. According to Craig Kramer, the percentage of calls placed to most company Employee Action Plans (EAPs) regarding mental health is “in the low single digits,” while “if you look at your drug spend, you’ll find that around 50% is [related to] mental health.” The people answering those calls must be trained in mental health issues, and employees also need to be assured that EAPs are truly confidential.

While revealing and accommodating mental illness remains a massive challenge in the workplace and beyond, a number of successful strategies are emerging for tackling this challenge – many of them pioneered by companies in NOD’s Corporate Leadership Council.

Engage. Advance.

Login to the new Corporate Leadership Council Members’ Only Portal to access exclusive resources and toolkits about mental health in the workplace.

Click the LOG IN button on NOD.org to get started! Need help logging into the Members’ Only Portal? Contact us at council@nod.org

Parents of Disabled Children Can Develop PTSD

I know because it happened to me.

Nov 3, 2017 | By Carol Glazer, President, National Organization on Disability

Carol Glazer hugging her son Jacob
Carol Glazer hugging her son Jacob

Twenty-five years ago my first son, Jacob, was born with hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. Doctors told us Jacob would grow up with both physical and intellectual disabilities. What those doctors didn’t tell me at the time was the emotional toll his illness would take on me.

It’s a story all too familiar for parents of children with severe disabilities, yet many of us struggle in silence. This week I decided to share my story publicly for the first time at a mental health forum in New York hosted by the National Organization on Disability, the nonprofit I am privileged to lead. As someone who encourages companies to create inclusive workplaces that invite employees to disclose their disabilities, the time had come for me to disclose mine.

I was diagnosed four years ago with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. PTSD is most commonly associated with military veterans returning from service. Yet parental PTSD is more common than you might think — nearly 30 percent of U.S. children live with chronic health conditions. Many of them might not have survived in previous generations, but because of advances in pediatric and therapeutic techniques and a changing spectrum of disease, they do live — but often with a lifetime spent in and out of the hospital. Nearly half of their mothers exhibit symptoms of anxiety and PTSD. Count me as one of them.

All these years later I can still feel the way my face tingled when the doctor told me the news about Jacob. It was the start of a year in which Jacob underwent 12 brain surgeries, two experimental surgeries, and suffered from three brain infections – the first of which, acquired in the hospital at birth and undiagnosed for six weeks, had caused considerable brain damage, particularly to his visual cortex. At the end of this ordeal, we were told that Jacob would likely be blind, he might not walk, and that his level of cognitive functioning would only become clear in the next three to five years.

In an instant, all of the excitement and anticipation of the arrival of our first child suddenly turned to mass confusion and terror. I tried to wrap my mind around the painful reality of what Jacob had been through, the massive uncertainty surrounding his long-term prognosis, and a life we knew would now entail regular trips to the hospital.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but something profound happened to me in those early years of Jacob’s life. I became a different person. More cautious. More prone to worry. Impatient or angry with the wrong people. I wasn’t happy with the person I’d become.

Clearly and unmistakably, I’d experienced trauma. Not the kind soldiers experience on the battlefield, but similar. When you think about it, repeated hospitalizations are not unlike multiple deployments.

I hate talking about myself, and usually don’t. But I chose to share my story in the hope that it will bring to life many of the questions we seek to shed light on as it relates to mental illness in America, as it’s fraught with stigma, misconceptions, fears, and myths.

Why for so long did I dismiss the feelings of terror, the insomnia, flashbacks, and sheer exhaustion, believing I had to just get over it?

Why did I not seek a diagnosis until only four years ago and then reject it as nothing compared with combat trauma?

Why am I only now telling this story?

The answers, of course, lie in the stigma and misconceptions surrounding mental health issues in the workplace. At NOD, we work every day to reduce the stigma around disabilities, both seen and unseen. We have amazing companies in our Corporate Leadership Council who are making this a priority so that their employees are less reluctant to share their stories, thus allowing their managers to create more inclusive workspaces, and benefit from their diverse talents and perspectives.

As for Jacob, I am happy to report that through a persistent regimen of early intervention treatments and multiple therapies, and with New York’s unparalleled special education system, he has thrived, with each victory bringing pure joy as he’s turned out to be a happy, clever, busy and loving young man.

And while the trauma of those early experiences crushed me to the core then, a new self has also emerged. Determined, skilled at dealing with adversity and solving problems. Resilient, vulnerable, and more compassionate. These are all skills a talented therapist has helped me recognize in myself.

Perhaps most of all, I have learned a workplace-leading practice that we all can use when facing coworkers, bosses, or team members who are dealing with mental health issues. It’s just one simple word: Empathy.

My colleagues have consistently been willing to put themselves in my position, not just feel for me, but put themselves in my place and think about how they’d want to be treated. That has engendered my loyalty, productivity, and ability to turn my life experiences into positives for my employers. In the case of NOD, I’d venture it’s had a direct impact on our mission.

As humans we’re built to be empathetic — but that empathy has to be activated. Once you find your way to that as a coworker or friend of someone who’s experiencing a mental health issue, or any disability for that matter, much of what you need to do will follow.

That is my story. I wish I’d told it sooner.

Read the full story at RedbookMag.com

Revisiting the Pain of Mental Illness in America

The Huffington Post, August 25, 2014 | Carol Glazer, President, National Organization on Disability

As an actor, comic and humanitarian, Robin Williams touched millions of lives. His untimely death by suicide linked to serious depression has deprived all of us of years more of his extraordinary gifts. More importantly, his family lost a husband and father. The media has been abuzz about the profound pain wrought by depression on its victims and their families. But before we move on to the next important news story, let’s first tally up what Robin Williams’ death tells us about the stigmatization of mental illness and the cost of investing in its early detection and treatment vs. the cost of not doing so.

Throughout history, as a society we’ve treated mental illness in short bursts, separated by large periods of benign or active neglect. From the purges and bloodletting in the Middle Ages, to later “madhouses” that housed inhabitants in cages, to reforms creating more humane state hospitals in the late 1800s, public policy has come full circle. In the 1960s we learned that state institutions were no better than incarceration of previous centuries. That recognition led to deinstitutionalization in the mid-1960s, codified by President Kennedy’s funding for treatment facilities through the Community Mental Health Act of 1963. (President Kennedy’s sister Rosemary had famously undergone a lobotomy, which left her inert and unable to speak more than a few words).

But while the number of institutionalized mentally ill people in the United States dropped from a peak of 560,000 to just over 130,000 in 1980, only half of the proposed community mental health centers intended to support individuals who transitioned back to communities were ever built, and many of those that remained were dismantled in the 1970s and ’80s due to lack of funding. Sadly, the promise of deinstitutionalization — helping vast numbers of people with mental health disabilities lead normal and productive lives through treatment in their communities — was never fulfilled.

From Deinstitutionalization to Transinstitutionalization

Today, inadequate treatment options in communities have forced people with serious mental health problems into homelessness and, once again, to prison. Across the country, individuals with severe mental illness are three times more likely to be in a prison than in a mental health facility, and 40 percent will spend some time in their lives in jail. In fact, the three largest mental health providers in the nation are jails: Cook County in Illinois, Los Angeles County and Rikers Island in New York. Collectively, jails and prisons now house an estimated 400,000 people with serious mental illness.

The consistent theme in the cycle has been a lack of a political will to fund appropriate mental health facilities and treatments. But with suicide rates among Baby Boomers, e.g., those in Williams’ generation, increasing by nearly 30 percent since 1999 and depression rates, closely correlated with suicides, likewise skyrocketing for people in this age group, it’s a public health crisis of tsunami proportion.

We pay dearly for our failure to invest in adequate early detection and treatment in communities. The cost of housing an inmate in prison is around $25,000 annually, not including the cost of social and medical services and education. (Ironically, getting these services upfront could keep many out of prison in the first place.)

In the workforce, stigmatization and inadequate treatment imposes similarly high costs to workers and employers alike. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, mental illness accounts for $193.2 billion in lost earnings and 217 million lost workdays annually, as well as dramatic reductions in on-the-job productivity.

Call to Action

We can figure this out. Advances in neuroscience and psychiatry have led to new therapeutic approaches that allow people with mental illness to live and work productively in their communities, at fractions of the cost of incarceration and homelessness. Failure to fund these treatments upfront is penny wise and pound-foolish.

Can we use Robin Williams’ death as a catalyst to resume an important national conversation about the stigmatization of mental illness, the inadequate treatment for those experiencing it, and the huge and unnecessary cost society bears as a result?

It’s time to bring the issue back full circle. We need a national commitment to community supports, both for early diagnosis and treatment. And humane inpatient psychiatric care is necessary for some individuals in need of a more structured care environment. We need better training for mental health care providers. And we need to educate families and employers about the prospects for a productive life, together with the cost-effective supports needed to get there. In short, we need a national commitment to alleviating the devastating costs of inadequately treating mental illness.

As a first step, we need to show all of America’s nearly 43 million people with mental illness the same compassion and empathy we’ve shown Robin Williams. They all deserve to live a full life, all of us need to benefit from what they have to give, and it can be done at a fraction of the cost of the alternatives.

Read all of Carol Glazer’s The Huffington Post blogs


We invite you to read our 6 Key Tips to Address Mental Health in your Workplace and learn how Kaiser Permanente, a leading healthcare provider, is tackling the problem with a ‘total health’ perspective from its Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer Dr. Ronald Copeland to discover strategies that can help boost inclusion and understanding in your company.