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As mental health becomes a priority in the workplace, CMH in St. Clair County is leading employers by example

The fight to remove the stigma of mental health has been an ongoing battle, and those affected by anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses suffer in long silence.

No one wants to get past the past two years of the pandemic again; However, there is no doubt that it has accelerated the conversation about the importance of mental health faster than it would have been if the pandemic had not occurred. While there is still a great deal of progress to be made when it comes to these conversations, one area that has seen a lot of focus is mental health in the workplace.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2019 and 2022, the percentage of adults ages 18 to 44 who received any mental health treatment in the past 12 months increased from 18.5% to 23.2%.

“We’ve seen a lot of people leave long-term employers to work for someone else,” says Kathleen Gallagher, MD, program director for Community Mental Health of St. Clair County (SCCCMH). “So, I think it’s important as an employer to keep up with that and meet the needs of the employees.”

In fact, the 2021 State of Workplace Mental Health Report in the US found that 50% of employees, 81% of whom are in the Generation Z category, left their jobs in part because of mental health. It also found that employees reported working at 72% of their full capacity over the past year when they took their mental health into account.

“If you don’t address employees’ mental health issues, it will cost you more money in the long run,” says Debra Johnson, CEO of SCCCMH. “Employees with mental health issues have decreased productivity and increased absenteeism. They will not be effective at work.”

Debra Johnson, CEO of Community Mental Health St. Clair County.Incorporating ways to improve mental health in the workplace is not new to St. Clair County’s Community Mental Health. Experts in the organization share their experiences and advise employers who are looking for ways to improve how they support the mental health of employees.

Johnson says one of the key actions employers need to take in order to support the mental health of their employees is to realize that mental health is just as important as physical health. One of the ways SCCCMH supports its employees is by allowing them to take days off for their mental health.

“A long time ago, we acknowledged and said that it’s a good idea to take a mental health day if your mental health is struggling and you need to take a break,” Johnson says. We know that one of the reasons people don’t seek mental health treatment early on is the stigma attached to it. People need to know that people don’t choose mental health issues, just as they don’t choose physical health issues.”

Employers can also create an environment that supports mental health in the workplace by providing spaces for employees to relax comfortably if they are feeling stressed.

“We have a decompression room — a room with positive things on the wall, comfortable seating, and charging stations,” Johnson says. “It’s a place where people can relax and take a break from what’s going on in the day and the rule is that you’re not allowed to work there… it’s just for people to decompress and relax.”

Employers can also offer many benefits and perks that support mental health, such as employee appreciation days, appreciation programs, and wellness options such as gym memberships or yoga classes. Johnson says Community Mental Health in St. Clair County provides its employees with the benefits of the YMCA in the Blue Water District.

“We know that physical exercise and all the other things that YMCA revolves around can help reduce stress and support you in improving your overall wellness,” she says.

She says it also allows employees to change their hours, something that people may find more useful now in a post-pandemic environment where they are used to having some flexibility in working from home.

Kathleen Gallagher, Program Director in Community Mental Health, St. Clair County“If you want to go to your kid’s Halloween party, for example, take a few hours and work later another day,” she explains. “Flexibility within the workplace is really ensuring that people get the work-life balance they need.”

Having a good work-life balance is also important for people when they return to work—whether remotely, in the office, or in a mixed environment—because throughout the pandemic they have had the opportunity to experience quality time with their family, Gallagher says.

“There’s a different situation, I think, in terms of work-life balance, and employers have to work harder at this time,” she explains. “During COVID, I think people have realized that they may have been away from their families a lot and don’t want to go back to a pre-COVID state where they are so busy and don’t have time for their families.”

No matter what policies you implement for your employees, at the end of the day, Johnson says taking the time to find ways to support your employees’ mental health is worth it for everyone involved.

“Everyone knows that stress and anxiety can contribute to diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure, obesity and all of those kinds of things,” Gallagher says. “So if you don’t address mental health, it will cost you more in the long run and benefit employers to be more proactive with it.”

For support or to learn more about resources offered through St. Clair County Community Mental Health, visit or call the SCCCMH Access Center at (888) 225-4447.