be nice. business program boosting mental health in Michigan’s workplaces

The Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan’s be nice. business program brings mental health to the workplace.
Training at University of Michigan Health-WestThis article is part of MI Mental Health, a new series highlighting the opportunities that Michigan's children, teens, and adults of all ages have to find the mental health help they need, when and where they need it. It is made possible with funding from the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan, and its community mental health (CMH) agency members.

The Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan’s be nice. business program uses a train-the-trainer method to bring a mental health action plan to the workplace. The American Psychological Association reports that the U.S. economy loses more than $500 billion each year due to workplace stress. A Stanford study found workplace stress led to nearly $190 billion in spending and almost 120,000 deaths annually. By reducing workplace stress, the be nice. business program not only benefits a company’s bottom line, it also helps employees and their families to access the mental health care that they need. Christy Buck, the Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan’s executive director, talked with MI Mental Health about its workplace mental health program.

Christy Buck, executive director, Mental Health Foundation of West MichiganQ. What kinds of workplaces take part in your program?

A. We’re in large and small workplaces, manufacturing, schools, real estate businesses — we're in any company that wants to bring mental health and suicide prevention education to their employees. It could be to enhance a wellness product program that they already have established or they're starting something new, something that employees have been requesting. The conversation right now among companies, businesses, schools, and communities is mental health.

Q. How do you integrate the be nice. business program into the workplace? Do you need to have a mental health professional implement this program?

A. Typically, we work with a company's human resources or benefits department. Our program is seen as an extension to a wellness program or an Employee Assistance Program, which oftentimes is a benefit that's offered and employees don't even realize that it exists, or they don't understand its purpose. So, the be nice. business program is a draw for people to take advantage of a benefit that they might have at their fingertips. When we train, we love to start at the top, making sure the CEOs and those people in charge know the importance of providing employees with this information.

be nice. business training.Q. Does a business need to employ a mental health professional to implement this program?

A. No, that's what makes it so easy. This is a tool — an action plan to utilize — when someone might be at the first start of what could be mental illness. It could be distress that is taking over their ability to go to work, perform their job, or have a great attitude on their job. Oftentimes, mental health affects those key things that bring about good employees. There could be stressors that are happening in their life. There could be stressors that are happening on their job. There could be stressors that they have a genetic predisposition for, a mental health disorder, and suddenly this is their first time where they're struggling.

Q. Can you describe the action plan?

A. What makes our be nice. program unique is that we have an action plan to implement: Notice. Invite. Challenge. Empower. It’s noticing and recognizing the changes in someone's behavior that suddenly have come about, that they have changed their attitude, their attendance, their job performance, or their relationships at work. That invitation lets that person know what I have noticed that's changed. The program challenges that person to access some of the resources. And then, ultimately, empowerment, helping that person to feel better, to find and access those resources that could be necessary that they didn't know about.

Q. How does making mental health resources available on the job reduce hesitancy to reach out for help?

A. When people realize that we're having this conversation where they are working and they are able to know where they can go to get help, it brings about hope that something can get better. Oftentimes, when somebody is at that point of that struggle, that frustration, that distress, we hear that they have lost hope. When you begin the be nice. conversation, suddenly, wow, things can potentially get better. People are having conversations like that with each other: “You don't have to feel like this," or “Your son or daughter doesn't have to feel like this.” Oftentimes what we're bringing to work are potentially things that are going on outside of work.

Q. How does a business sign up for be nice.? How do they get started?

A. They can go to our website, Go to the “Our programs'' tab and click on the “Businesses.” They fill out the form and that gets trickled to the right person here at the West Michigan Mental Health Foundation. Then, a meeting is set up for the interested business. It may be that they want to sign up right off the bat. Or maybe the next step is another meeting where another layer of folks need to come in, depending on a company's size. The fee for the program is based on the size of the company.

Photos courtesy Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan 

The MI Mental Health series is made possible with funding from a coalition of Michigan CMHs: Center for Health and Research Transformation, Genesee Health System, Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, North Country CMH, Northern Lakes CMH Authority, OnPoint, Sanilac County CMH, St. Clair County CMH, Summit Pointe, Washtenaw County CMH, and the Community Mental Health Association of Michigan.

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