How Employers Can Break the Stigma of Depression: An Interview with Hal Rosenbluth and Jessica Garfield

May 22, 2019

Today there are 16.2 million adults who have experienced major depression episode. The impact on the American workforce can be devastating; According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and a good reminder for leaders of corporations to prioritize the health and well-being of every employee.

As a leader who has continuously worked within caring corporate cultures, I’ve always felt that the physical, emotional and mental health of every employee is essential to our corporate success and that often comes down to leading with emotional intelligence. When I first led a company of six thousand employees, modern wellness initiatives didn’t exist. My solution was unique: I retained a corporate psychologist to be onsite daily, a resource overseen by our HR organization. Monthly invoices were void of names and details yet, every associate whether at headquarters or in offices around the world had access to the psychologist for any personal reason.

While I found this an invaluable solution for my colleagues, not all companies have the resources to provide a corporate psychologist and many issues can now be addressed through a company’s health and well-being program. When I launched New Ocean Health Solutions, our goal was to build a platform that could effectively address the costliest aspects of healthcare. We built out a complete digital suite of lifestyle and chronic condition management programs which will also include a behavioral health program starting this summer. Jessica Garfield, Manager, Behavioral Health & Wellbeing Strategy for New Ocean says “Depression is often overlooked in the workplace even though it often co-occurs with chronic conditions. What’s more is that burnout and an increasingly stressed workforce comes at a very high price to pay.” Employees diagnosed with depression miss an average 68 million days of work annually and the estimated cost to employer per depressive episode ranges from $5,000 to over $25,000 according to Gallup.

I recently talked with Jessica Garfield about mental health in the work place and the Depression Program we are planning for release this summer:

HR: Short of hiring an in-house psychologist, what is a short list of to-do’s that can help companies improve their mental state?

JG: It starts with company culture.

  1. Create a culture of health and wellness that encourages family priorities, financial wellness and flex time that encourages employees to activate their wellness benefits and feel less stressed about meeting all of their priorities inside and outside of the office.
  2. Invest in wellness that creates awareness and make it accessible and judgement free. While mental health issues affect many people, it is not uncommon for some people to experience shame and uncertainty due to the resistant stigma that surrounds mental disease. New Ocean’s digital depression program provides a great toolbox to self-manage conditions in a way that is convenient, private and unlike other solutions, is accessible at any time.
  3. Offer a health assessment that addresses behavioral health and provides actionable recommendations for improving health outcomes. Everyone’s journey is different. New Ocean’s Private Health Assessment provides personalized results with recommendations for lifestyle and chronic condition management programs which can have a great impact on mental health awareness.

HR: In creating a digital depression management program, what were some of the most important considerations?

JG:  We wanted to ensure that our program supported individuals in their efforts to self-manage their depression regardless of whether or not they were receiving outside medical treatment. We designed a toolbox rooted in cognitive behavioral therapy toolbox, accessible for self-management at any time and one that includes tools such as an Automatic Thought Record and Depression Journal.

HR: What are some of the engagement barriers you see in other programs?

JG: Depression screenings and on-site counselors are beneficial tools that can improve mental health, and although employees trust that surveys and information are helpful privacy and confidentiality is still a large concern. Resilience seminars and other mental health programs are often one-sized fits all presentation that don’t provide actionable solutions with continuous support.