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Risk Insider: Terri Rhodes

Let’s Reduce Mental Health Stigma

By: | April 23, 2018 • 2 min read
Terri L. Rhodes is CEO of the Disability Management Employer Coalition. Terri was an Absence and Disability Management Consultant for Mercer, and also served as Director of Absence and Disability for Health Net and Corporate IDM Program Manager for Abbott Laboratories.

Over the past 25 years, there has been sustained discussion about the U.S. health care system. More coverage, better insurance, new ways of providing care, cost containment and prevention — all are welcome and necessary.

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But it’s only in recent years that attention has turned to mental health in a more critical way. Health care professionals, policymakers and others are moving beyond old stereotypes and taking long overdue steps to address this pervasive and debilitating illness. Yet, we still have a long way to go.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. So, let’s start there.

At the top of the list is reducing the stigma attached to mental illness.

Mental illness is often treated the way cancer was 50 years ago — in whispers and rumors. Or it’s demonized as the cause of crime and violence.

Regardless of differences among employee groups, we all benefit when stigma is reduced. Overcoming stigmatization at every level of the organization is not only right, it is the only way to effectively address and lower the costs of mental illness in the workplace.

While surveys conducted by our organization indicate the level of stigma among employers is essentially stable, it still remains too high.

Mental illness is like any other illness. While that’s reflected in laws effecting health insurance, it’s not always the way it is viewed and how those suffering from it feel. They often feel shame and embarrassment because of the way we identify and treat mental illness. Public stigma, much like workplace stigma, emerges with persistent stereotypes; for example, individuals with mental illness are dangerous or unpredictable. The result is more than half of those with mental illness do not seek treatment. Like any illness, untreated mental illness can result in other illnesses and behaviors, including chronic pain, substance abuse, etc. This can lead to even higher costs to employers.

It’s important to recognize that younger employees, in particular, tend to attach less stigma to depression, stress and other mental illness.

Regardless of differences among employee groups, we all benefit when stigma is reduced. Overcoming stigmatization at every level of the organization is not only right, it is the only way to effectively address and lower the costs of mental illness in the workplace.

Here are four steps to help reduce stigma:

  1. Know the facts.

Educate yourself about mental health. Learn the facts instead of believing the myths. Our website is a good place to start for free resources.

  1. Educate others.

Find opportunities to pass on facts about mental health. If your co-workers present information that is not true, challenge their myths and stereotypes. Let them know that illness is illness, and everyone benefits when we talk about it honestly.

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  1. Be aware of your attitudes and behavior.

We all grow up with stereotypes and pre-conceived notions. But these views can be changed. People are unique individuals. They’re not defined by their illness, mental or otherwise.

  1. Be careful about the way you speak.

The way we speak influences the way other people think and speak. In discussing mental health, it is best to use neutral and descriptive language. You wouldn’t use judgmental language to talk about kidney disease, and the same applies to an illness of the brain.

Of course, taking these steps won’t just reduce mental health stigma. It will also make for a fairer and more productive workplace. And in the process, lower many potential legal and reputational risks.

And in the end, equal and fair treatment gets to the heart of the issue.

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

2018 Risk All Stars

Masters of Risk

The concept of risk mastery and ownership, as displayed by the 2018 Risk All Stars, includes not simply seeking to control outcomes but taking full responsibility for them.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 3 min read

People talk a lot about how risk managers can get a seat at the table. The discussion implies that the risk manager is an outsider, striving to get the ear or the attention of an insider, the CEO or CFO.

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But there are risk managers who go about things in a different way. And the 2018 Risk All Stars are prime examples of that.

These risk managers put in gear their passion, creativity and perseverance to become masters of a situation, pushing aside any notion that they are anything other than key players.

Goodyear’s Craig Melnick had only been with the global tire maker a few months when Hurricane Harvey dumped a record amount of rainfall on Houston.

Brilliant communication between Melnick and his new teammates gave him timely and valuable updates on the condition of manufacturing locations. Melnick remained in Akron, mastering the situation by moving inventory out of the storm’s path and making sure remediation crews were lined up ahead of time to give Goodyear its best leg up once the storm passed and the flood waters receded.

Goodyear’s resiliency in the face of the storm gave it credibility when it went to the insurance markets later that year for renewals. And here is where we hear a key phrase, produced by Kevin Garvey, one of Goodyear’s brokers at Aon.

“The markets always appreciate a risk manager who demonstrates ownership,” Garvey said, in what may be something of an understatement.

These risk managers put in gear their passion, creativity and perseverance to become masters of a situation, pushing aside any notion that they are anything other than key players.

Dianne Howard, a 2018 Risk All Star and the director of benefits and risk management for the Palm Beach County School District, achieved ownership of $50 million in property storm exposures for the district.

With FEMA saying it wouldn’t pay again for district storm losses it had already paid for, Howard went to the London markets and was successful in getting coverage. She also hammered out a deal in London that would partially reimburse the district if it suffered a mass shooting and needed to demolish a building, like what happened at Sandy Hook in Connecticut.

2018 Risk All Star Jim Cunningham was well-versed enough to know what traditional risk management theories would say when hospitality workers were suffering too many kitchen cuts. “Put a cut-prevention plan in place,” is the traditional wisdom.

But Cunningham, the vice president of risk management for the gaming company Pinnacle Entertainment, wasn’t satisfied with what looked to him like a Band-Aid approach.

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Instead, he used predictive analytics, depending on his own team to assemble company-specific data, to determine which safety measures should be used company wide. The result? Claims frequency at the company dropped 60 percent in the first year of his program.

Alumine Bellone, a 2018 Risk All Star and the vice president of risk management for Ardent Health Services, faced an overwhelming task: Create a uniform risk management program when her hospital group grew from 14 hospitals in three states to 31 hospitals in seven.

Bellone owned the situation by visiting each facility right before the acquisition and again right after, to make sure each caregiving population was ready to integrate into a standardized risk management system.

After consolidating insurance policies, Bellone achieved $893,000 in synergies.

In each of these cases, and in more on the following pages, we see examples of risk managers who weren’t just knocking on the door; they were owning the room. &

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Risk All Stars stand out from their peers by overcoming challenges through exceptional problem solving, creativity, clarity of vision and passion.

See the complete list of 2018 Risk All Stars.

Dan Reynolds is editor-in-chief of Risk & Insurance. He can be reached at [email protected]