Employee Benefits

‘Mental Health’ — The New Buzz Term

Morgan Young
Morgan Young
Employee Benefits

As I look back on my career, this is the first time I remember there being so much emphasis on mental health…and for good reason. The year 2020 was brutal, and parts of 2021 haven’t been much better.

My Own Story

Just over a year ago on June 13, 2020, I lost one of the best people I’ve ever known. He was a colleague and a friend. He lit up a room when he walked in and never left anyone without a smile on their face. His death broke me in a lot of ways and left me with a void I didn’t know how to fill. I felt weak, like I should be able to handle the loss more easily than I was and like there was something wrong with me for still tearing up (even as I’m writing this) just thinking about him.

Every one of us has our own COVID and 2020 stories. No two stories are alike, and all have altered our mental health.

So, Where Do We Go from Here?

With an intense focus on mental health and new vendors coming out of the woodwork with their “solutions,” I want to challenge the way we talk about mental health and what we consider “success.“

For years, the treatment industry, insurance companies, and even society have had a very high bar for success in mental health and substance abuse treatment. I work a lot with first responders, so I’ll use that as an example.

Example 1

We expect a police officer who has had 25 years on the force, experienced significant trauma, and is a 20-year alcoholic dealing with a crumbling marriage to go into a 30-day treatment program and be cured.

Our expectation is that they come out clean, sober, and never touch another drop of alcohol, and if they do, they are a failure and are at risk of losing their job.

Example 2

However, let’s take this same first responder and, instead of alcohol, they have a heart attack. They go and have heart bypass surgery and a few months later are back in the doctor’s office; because they’re still eating McDonald’s twice a week, enjoying some brisket and ribs most weekends, and aren’t working out.

What do we do we say about this person? Nothing!

We recognize that change is hard. We understand this person still has a lot of work to do, and they need continuous coaching and support to change their long-term habits to begin living a healthier life. The doctor works with individual to develop an ongoing plan and monitors them so they avoid ending up back on the operating table.

Do you see the contradiction, and why so many are hesitant to raise their hand and ask for help?

The Treatment Industry Is Broken

The metrics used to track “success” in the mental health and substance abuse industry are broken. Changing the narrative is hard, but it’s needed if we’re serious about making mental health a priority.

We cannot continue to talk about how important it is to get help only to have unrealistic expectations of the outcome. It’s time for change!

Just like we have finally started having conversations around mental health and reducing the stigma, let’s do the same thing with getting people help.

Instead of calling it treatment, let’s call it stabilization.

What is the difference? Treatment is the expectation that you are or will be cured. Stabilization is when you have a plan, support and are working every day to get better.

Programs have been developed and are now becoming more widely available to support these stabilization models. Instead of a 30-day expensive treatment program, programs are two weeks of intensive outpatient treatment and 10 weeks of follow-up visits either face-to-face or virtually with a counselor who knows the plan and will help you every step of the way.

The Change Starts with You

It starts with changing your perspective on what you believe success looks like. Let’s view this as an opportunity — the same way I have taken my friend’s death and used it as an opportunity to live life more fully each day and to (hopefully) leave a smile on each face I see. Use this opportunity to get people the help they need and the grace to do it.

Holmes Murphy, as an organization, has made this a priority, and it shows in our leadership, our programs, and our daily conversations. If you would like more information on how to build a strategy around mental health, we are here to help — without judgement! Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us!

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