Healthy work, health home: Locals work to build a workplace for positive mental health

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
This year's Community Behavioral Health Conference included talks by area employers about way to encourage a culture that supports worker mental health needs.

For many people, a job and career can be both a rewarding endeavor but also a cause for stress and anxiety. However, there are steps that employers can take to reduce these factors and create a workplace culture of positive mental health.

"Mental health in the workplace is critically important," said Sean Norton, public information and media manager for the Texoma Behavioral Health Leadership Team. "I feel it is a key component because we spend so much time at work and in the work environment, and it is important for us to be sure that we have taken into consideration the health and wellness of our employees."

Bill Wilson, who leads the behavioral health team for Fannin County said the average person spends about 90,000 hours, or one-third of their life, in the workplace. With that much of a person's time spent working, the workplace environment can play a major factor in someone's mental health.

With that level of impact, the effects of the workplace can influence someone's mood and mental health in other places, including one's home and family life. Through a positive culture in the workplace, employers can help employees have more energy and time for tasks at home.

Last week, employers from across Texoma and members of the TBHLT discussed the topic of mental health in the workplace along with ways to encourage a healthy environment as a part of the annual Community Behavioral Health Conference. This included panels by area employers and discussions on upcoming initiatives by the TBHLT.

Multiple employers said that a key way to build a positive culture is to  encourage the open discussion of mental health and its impacts. This includes actively talking with employees about how they are doing and acknowledging if someone is struggling.

"It isn't just about concentrating on if we are making money, if we are selling widgets," said Melissa Perrin, representing First United Bank.

Texoma Behavioral Health Leadership Team Chairman Harry Lemming speaks during the Community Behavioral Health Conference Friday. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the vent was livestreamed on the internet.

Perrin said she often starts meetings with employees by check in with them and seeing how each and everyone is doing. The same meetings end with acknowledgments and encouragement for accomplishments in the workplace.

That said, some people react different and are less likely to open, she said, noting that no one strategy works for all.

Brett Graham, CEO of Graham International, said he has encouraged his employees to be open about their needs and has tried to dispel any myths and stigma that surround the topic. At times, this requires pushing against the machismo that comes with the industry and acknowledging when one is hurtin

Aimee Dennis, owner of Lettuce Indulge, said she keeps her restaurant closed on Sundays in order to give her staff at least one weekend day off where they can spend time with family and take care of business at home. While closing on the weekend can and does cut into revenues, she said it is worth it to give her workers the time off.

Dennis also suggested that employers not call on the same employees every time when additional help is needed. Some workers will feel obligated to come in every time, she said.

These panels coincided with ongoing efforts by the TBHLT to create toolkits for employers on how to address mental health needs in the workplace. These toolkits would combine resources from a variety of sources into one easy to use format, Norton said.

These resources would include multiple approaches to addressing various needs in an effort to find different approaches that work for different business and culture models, he said. These toolkits are expected to roll out some time in late 2021.