By Dr. Sarah Dross-Gonzalez, Psy.D., HSPP, Director, Clinical Training and Development, Aspire Indiana Health

With all the myriad challenges of the COVID pandemic, one that is only recently being acknowledged is what some have called the “third wave” — mental health challenges.

Even as far back as last spring, organizations that work in behavioral health like Aspire Indiana Health knew that another crisis would soon arrive on the heels of coronavirus. We’ve seen that come to pass, with massive rises in depression, anxiety, suicide attempts and ideation, substance use, domestic abuse and other negative indicators.

The Third Wave

As the vaccine rolls out and we start to get a glimpse at that light at the end of a long tunnel representing “normal,” many companies and organizations have had to cope with this third wave of mental health challenges in their workforce. Many have experienced increased absenteeism, dips in productivity, and people experiencing personal and professional burnout.

Just recently Pacers assistant coach Bill Banyo quit his job, citing the stress of COVID including losses in his friends and family.

Steps Towards Safeguarding

Businesses need to take a proactive approach to safeguarding their employees’ wellbeing and mental health during this long march. We would like to share some of the things Aspire has been doing on this front for our own employees and those we serve — and also some ways we can help your business.

For starters, we drastically increased the amount of communication with employees, even as most of them began working from home. This included a weekly video livestream called The Gathering Place that was an opportunity to hear from different parts of Aspire about how they were adapting and coping. We also initiated a regular rundown of success stories to share, both to bolster morale and spread best practices.

Additionally, we launched the use of Google Currents, a business-oriented social media platform, where people can organize their own public and private communities around particular areas of interest.

Aspire also flexed its cultural strength to let people know they’re not alone. Through the pandemic we acknowledged their challenges, shifting gears to accommodate employees and client services as much as possible, along with continuing that strong communication model all year.

As a result, recent employee surveys actually showed improvements in colleague wellbeing, colleague empowerment and work environment — which is huge for a pandemic year.

Provide Space For Concerns

For our community, we created a “warm line” where people could call 24/7 to talk to a mental health expert for free. We initiated group video calls where people could share their concerns with others in a safe, supportive environment. We quickly switched to a video telehealth model so nobody was left without the counseling support they needed.

To keep the focus on wellness, Aspire recently introduced a new Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that includes all sorts of self-help resources as well as a support link to reach out for counseling and other services. If your company doesn’t have these sorts of resources internally, there are plenty of providers who can help.

Add Mental Health  First Aid Training

Aspire doesn’t do EAP programs for other organizations, but we can offer Mental Health First Aid training and other forms of mental health awareness programming. This can provide key individuals in your company the skills needed to recognize, reach out and provide initial support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance use problem and help connect them to the appropriate care.

This training can be performed virtually, and Aspire is proud to offer it free of charge via grant funding. Click here to learn more.

Create a Culture of Support

Finally, it’s important to project a culture of support and empathy to everyone in your organization. Everyone has struggled in some way during this historical event, and we are reaching the point where fatigue grinds down even the most resilient.

Take time for team-bonding experiences like sharing lunch together during a video call, or trivia quizzes via email with prizes, or a contest to see who’s grown their hair the longest or otherwise made personal styling changes over the last year.

We’re all in this together — our families, our community and our colleagues. And that includes embracing one another’s wellbeing.