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Special Employee Health Care By Ginger Hill

Employee Health Care for Mental and Emotional Health Struggles

The rise of mental and emotional health struggles  have been well documented during this pandemic period. In fact, in my corner of the world, the county coroner recently issued a dire warning about the upcoming fall and winter season based on concerns about a 23% increase in suicide compared to last year.

As a Christian organization, how are you supporting the mental and emotional health of your employees as they continue on in their work while facing the stress of mounting adaptations in ever-changing circumstances in the midst of uncertainty?  Welcome to the COVID-19 workplace!

As I’ve interacted with Christian organizations over the past year, I’ve noticed that employee support for the maintenance of physical health is widely available and structured, while support for employee mental/emotional health is a bit more spotty.

It’s not surprising as Christian organizations operate as part of the Body of Christ which often views physical problems very differently than mental/emotional health problems.

Let’s explore some of these differing viewpoints by comparing two common health problems – Diabetes (physical) and Depression (mental/emotional) and taking a look at ways in which the Body of Christ often talks about these two problems:

Cultural Acceptance

Diabetes is often viewed as commonplace – not abnormal given the fact that we are Christians living in a broken world.  Depression is viewed as something that should be rare for Christians living in that same broken world.

Treatment Methods

The response to news of a diabetes diagnosis is often, “Go see your doctor and be faithful in following the treatment protocols.” The response to news of a depression diagnosis is often, “Go see your pastor and be skeptical about anyone who recommends treatment options involving psychological counseling or medication.”

Personal Responsibility & Accountability

For the diabetic, we often overlook, excuse, and are hesitant to suggest accountability for personal behaviors that may contribute to the problem, such as overeating and sedentary living.

For the person with depression, we often feel compelled to suggest taking a personal spiritual inventory and encourage them to be intentional about dealing with possible contributing factors, such as an undisciplined thought life, bitterness, negativity or thoughts of doubt or unbelief.

This dichotomy of responses to the person with diabetes versus the person with depression may expose a hidden assumption that the physical, mental/emotional, and spiritual can be compartmentalized and are independent of each other.  This type of thinking leads us to act as if the root cause of physical health problems is primarily biological and therefore should be addressed through the medical establishment.  This thinking also leads us to act as if the root cause of mental and emotional problems are primarily spiritual and therefore should be addressed exclusively through the church or Body of Christ.

Our Full Existence

In this world, our existence is physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.  These three aspects of our being are part of our existence everywhere we go.  In this life, they cannot be separated, and each aspect has an impact on the others.

For example:

  • I have difficulty displaying the fruits of the Spirit when I am physically tired.
  • When I’m mentally agitated or emotionally upset, I feel like I don’t even know how to pray.
  • Acts of services are difficult and draining when I have compassion fatigue.
  • When I’m in physical pain, I can hardly think straight.

Taking a whole person view helps us to challenge the unhealthy ease of acceptance of physical problems and the unhealthy embarrassment and shame that often surrounds mental/emotional health problems.

In taking a holistic view of supporting mental/emotional health in the workplace, let’s keep on leveraging our spiritual resources:  pray for, serve, and counsel and encourage colleagues with truth from the Word of God.

Supportive Actions

But let’s also embrace some other supportive actions related to mental/emotional health that support a whole person view of health:

  • Structure your health benefits plan in such a way to encourage annual physicals for employees. An established relationship with a physician that includes frank discussions about overall health status and habits can go a long way in supporting employees in all areas of health.
  • Encourage healthy eating, movement, and social connection during the workday as all these have been shown to positively impact mental/emotional health.
  • Be careful about taking an informal or unstructured approach to helping employees with mental/emotional health concerns. Remember that while your organization may feel like family and employees are fellow members of the Body of Christ, the employment relationship is transactional and conditional.  Privacy and autonomy are hallmarks of benefits offerings, especially when related to mental/emotional health.
  • Take an inventory of your organization’s employee well-being support services. Do they lean on the side of primarily supporting physical health or are they balanced with supporting employees in the mental/emotional aspects of their health as well?  How could your organization grow in supporting employee health and well-being from a whole person perspective?
  • Do a survey of employees and ask them about their perception of their work environment or culture in terms of supporting employee health? Consider creating an employee well-being committee to facilitate this type of communication and feedback.  What would your employees identify as most helpful for them in continuing to do quality work while managing the stress of adaptation and uncertainty in this pandemic period?
  • Engage your employee well-being vendors –  insurance, wellness, financial, workplace chaplains, and employee assistance program (EAP) – all of which are creating content and communication materials to support employees during this time.
  • Communicate, and then communicate some more! Everything we do, we do as a whole person.  Check in frequently with employees to assess how they are doing not just as an employee, but as a whole person.  Communicate employee-wellbeing resources both through written materials and “word of mouth” communication starting at the top of your organizational chart.

Closing Thoughts

“And masters, treat your servants considerately. Be fair with them. Don’t forget for a minute that you, too, serve a Master—God in heaven.”  (Colossians 4:1, MSG)

Paul encouraged leaders to treat the people serving their mission and vision with consideration and fairness, remembering that those in authority also serve a Master.  And our Master is One who blesses abundantly,

“so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Cor 9:8, NIV)

As employees manage the stress of continuing on in their work during COVID-19, is the way your Christian organization cares for employees an accurate reflection of God’s care for you?

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Ginger Hill is a Christian wellness speaker, coach and consultant and the founder of Good Health for Good Works where she helps the earnest, but often exhausted, workers in Christian organizations to take steps toward healthier living so they can fulfill their organization’s mission with​ energy, excellence and endurance.

 

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