Internalizing 2020: Well-Being Can Be Hindered During a Crisis

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found more than 40% of adults surveyed reported at least one adverse mental or …

The coronavirus pandemic and related economic struggles, injustices prompting protests, even so-called “murder hornets.”

So far, 2020 hasn’t taken it easy on any of us.

What it has taken is a toll on our mental well-being — and the fallout goes viral in its own way, following us from home to work and infecting confidantes and co-workers alike.

“2020 is a difficult year. … Everyone is stressed,” said Dr. Matt Samocki, portfolio director for Transforming Health Regionally In A Vibrant Economy, or THRIVE, a collaboration between the Michigan Health Improvement Alliance and the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance aimed at improving the regional economy through better well-being.

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found more than 40% of adults surveyed reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition related to the pandemic and/or its related economic and societal fallout. Those conditions include anxiety, depression and substance abuse, among others.

“With the pandemic and the worries about the virus and the physical health of the people of Michigan, there’s also the worry about the mental health aspects of this,” said Dr. Debra Pinals, the medical director of behavioral health and forensic programs for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “We know that a quarantine-type situation creates all sorts of stresses; the whole idea of getting sick creates stresses.”

A failure to address mental health issues among workers can lead to low performance, poor morale and a diminished bottom line. Plus, employees struggling to stay mentally well are more likely to leave their jobs, sending workers into a tailspin and leaving employers in the lurch.

“One of the main reasons (behind employee turnover) is because they don’t feel like they’re supported at work,” Samocki said. “The benefits of supporting your workers is more productivity (and) less turnover.”

One of THRIVE’s clients is Fisher Contracting Co. in Midland, where a pilot program was created last year to support the mental health needs of more than 200 employees and their families through mental health coverage equal to existing medical coverage, according to Samocki. Before involvement with THRIVE, the company saw mental wellness issues affecting its staff.

“Anything stress-related impacts our employees’ productivity. … If they’re not firing on all cylinders, they won’t do well,” said J.W. Fisher, president of Fisher Contracting, which is one of several Fisher family-owned civil construction businesses throughout the Great Lakes Bay Region.

In launching the program, a pair of company leaders talked honestly and openly about their own mental health struggles. That went a long way to remove the stigma among workers, Fisher said.

According to Samocki, the program helped create a “mental health culture shift,” allowing employees to feel supported in seeking mental health care just as they would seek help for a physical illness.

The program has been well-utilized by employees and has resulted in noticeable upticks in both productivity and morale.

“Don’t underestimate your employees. They’re not as resistant (to wellness resources) as you think they are,” Fisher said, adding that the improved productivity is more than offsetting a nominal change in health care costs.

The company has also utilized a supervisor training program created by Dr. Ann Date at Partners in Change Psychological & Community Services in Midland, according to Samocki. For more information on resources available through THRIVE, go to


Destigmatizing Mental Wellness

You wouldn’t tell someone to tough it out through a heart attack; you’d insist they get professional help. It’s no different with mental health issues.

“It’s really important that we create infrastructures in the workplace that support employees” and their mental health needs, said Dr. Debra Pinals, the medical director of behavioral health and forensic programs for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

Pinals’ suggestions include:

  • Including mental health, substance abuse and behavior health treatment in standard employee health care insurance programs.
  • Leading by example by modeling behaviors. For example, managers taking regular lunch breaks and maintaining work-life balance.
  • Keeping staff informed about changes in policies and available programs and addressing workforce questions through town hall meetings and other two-way engagement opportunities.
  • Giving people opportunities to support each other through peer programs and positive messaging throughout the workspace.

For more information on available resources, go to


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