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Scottsdale Area Chamber delivers compelling argument for mental health in office space, and beyond

Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Stanton. (Photo: Arianna Grainey/DigitalFreePress)
Mental health in business panel drives knowledge, empathy and bottom line
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

About 100 Scottsdale and Phoenix business leaders descended upon the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa yesterday to discuss a hot-button issue in classrooms, office space and now the executive suite — the mental health of others.

The Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the business case for mental health in all things industry for the majority of the afternoon Wednesday, Sept. 27 as behavioral health experts dissected the nuanced, confusing and oftentimes intimidating pursuit of mental health care.

Turns out, business leaders say, taking care and giving attention to the person rather the employee has a positive impact on the bottom line.

The six-hour workshop began with “Mental Health: Legal Obligations in the Workplace,” which was hosted by Glen Pelster, managing attorney of legal training and content development at the Employers Council.

“By removing the stigmas associated with behavioral health, and being proactive in awareness and education, we have an opportunity to make mental health and well-being a priority in our workplaces,” said Mark Stanton, president and CEO who served as master of ceremonies for the mental health workshop and panel.

The keystone presentation of the afternoon was an in-depth panel discussion, ‘Mental Health: Best Practices and Reducing the Stigma in the Workplace’ featuring these panelists:

  • Bill Southwick, CEO at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital;
  • Alex Stavros, CEO at Embark Behavioral Health; and
  • Tina Thornton, associate vice president of wellbeing and safety at Nationwide Insurance

The panel was moderated by Mindfulness First co-founder Sunny Wight, who began the discussion with a mindful moment.

“Let us begin first with a mindful moment,” she said at the onset of the panel discussion. “We started Mindfulness First because I experienced a stress induced breakdown in 2009. The skills I learned have absolutely transformed my life — I have a real compassion and drive for mental health.”

Ms. Wight did not mince words, “We are really in an unprecedented crisis,” she said alluding to the dramatic impact on all Americans who experienced a global pandemic that uprooted day-to-day activities.

“When I went through my crisis, I really felt like the things I learned were missing from education,” she said. “The effect of the pandemic is not over for our children, or for us.”

Mr. Southwick, who serves as Banner Behavioral Health Hospital CEO, outlined in succinct detail that the underlying purpose of the panel was meant to educate folks on the fact they have a place to go if they need help — and there is no shame in seeking help for mental state.

Turns out, we are all humans, largely seeking the same things: love, comfort, camaraderie, personal and professional success and joy, Mr. Southwick points out.

“Isn’t it great what mindfulness can offer? If you can learn what the body is telling you, you can really help yourself,” he said of understanding the physiological effect of stress, anxiety and depression on the human nervous system.

“This discussion is about making sure everyday has a place to go,” he said pointing out his own struggles trying to navigate the acronym latent profession of psychiatry, physiology, pharmacology and the complicated insurance policies of the sector.

“These diseases we are talking about —- they are medical diseases, they are not mental diseases. All of us have something that we kind of struggle with as one in five of us are going to encounter some kind of mental disorder.”

The good news, Mr. Southwick says, is medical diseases impacting the mind are treatable.

“Really, what this comes down to, is not only are we helping our employers to be better, but you are also saving money,” he said. “A person in distress, not only is that person less productive, but they are financially costly because of lost productivity, financial costs and ultimately turnover.”

In modern day America, one in three people report some kind of anxiety.

“If you look at the statistics there are 100 people in the room —there is someone in here who could suffer from schizophrenia,” he said of the stark reality of the fragile American psyche. “It is hard to find the right place to go. It is difficult. We deal with insurance companies that would rather deny than pay. I had trouble trying to find a place for my own son and nothing happened until I said I would pay cash.”

Scottsdale Area Chamber makes a case for mental health in business

“There is a lot we can do to help our folks,” said Ms. Thornton, associate vice president of wellbeing and safety at Nationwide Insurance. “We have to find ways to connect with employees more than we have before — it is really important to have the destigmatization of mental health.”

At Nationwide, an insurance company behemoth with 25,000 employees, Ms. Thornton outlines numerous resources for employees both online and in-person.

“With the pandemic, we changed how we do work — employees and mangers are not connected like they used to be,” she pointed out of the vital need for digital communications in the 21st century American workplace.

“Empathy and connection are important to us. Our leaders will call those folks and ask how are you doing. I know I ask my team to turn their cameras on to see how they are doing, how they look.”

Through health savings accounts typically provided for certain corporate employees or in-network programs through employer insurance collective bargaining agreements, employees will find myriad programs, platforms and professionals to help.

“If you ignore this mental health piece, than you don’t understand what your employees are going through and your employees are going to start to feel devalued,” she pointed out. “This will really have an impact on morale.”

Through the Nationwide EAP — which translates to employee assistance program — Ms. Thornton points out employees have 16 sessions already paid for to deal with a mental health problem at work or at home.

“We just make it OK, for people to talk about their mental health,” she said of a cultural shift at Nationwide. “You can go to a brick-and-mortar or a text message, or online. We have a culture of acceptance.”

For Mr. Stavros, he explains, oftentimes talking about mental health in any environment is difficult, but one that makes good business sense for any business enterprise.

“If you ask someone how they are doing, what are they going to say? Good, right? They are not going to lean and say, ‘Well, let me tell you how I am doing,’” he quipped. “You cannot serve anyone else until you have developed empathy for them. We want to do this because it is the right thing to do, but as business leaders we also need to make the decisions that is best for the business in the moment.”

At Embark, Mr. Stavros contends the ultimate goal is to reduce deaths cause by suicide in American youth by 2028 — today those numbers are at all-time highs, he explains.

“It is just the idea of the whole person — what relationships we have or don’t have in our lives, or old and recent traumas that affect the whole person,” he said. “It is all interpretive and it is all fluid, we don’t just put it in a bucket of mental health, it is about the whole person. Mental health lives in the nervous system and your gut.”

No one is born to hate and no employee wants to do a bad job, Mr. Stavros explains.

“Everybody wants to do a really good job, he said. “Therefore, as managers, you need to recognize that all you are doing is getting in the way — it is your job to understand and help them get back to the place they want to be. A lot of people need this now — and are going to into the future.”

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