Mental Health

Cardinal Health makes mental health first aid training available to every employee

The company focuses on education, reducing stigma, and comprehensive benefits.
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Hannah Minn

· 4 min read

Americans are facing loneliness and other emotional struggles both at work and in their personal lives, according to the US surgeon general. Companies are recognizing the need to support employees’ mental health at the office since that’s where we spend the majority of our waking hours.

According to a 2023 report from McKinsey, while 90% of organizations offer some level of well-being program, workers are still struggling. Now, some companies are training employees in mental health first aid (MHFA) to help identify when a colleague may be in crisis and to provide appropriate support.

Zoom in. MHFA is a course that trains workers to recognize when a colleague may be experiencing a mental health crisis, according to the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. The course educates participants on the signs of mental health challenges, and how to talk to employees about a mental health or substance abuse concern. It also examines safety and privacy issues, and increases empathy for people experiencing a mental health crisis while decreasing stigma. The council recommends that employers offer the training to workers, similar to providing CPR training.

“Mental Health First Aid can support the wellbeing of employees by reducing stigma associated with mental health, increasing the likelihood that a person will reach out to a colleague who may need support, and teaching employees how to connect a peer in distress with appropriate resources in accordance with company policies,” Tramaine EL-Amin, vice president for Mental Health First Aid at the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, told HR Brew in an email. “When included as a part of a more expansive wellbeing initiative, Mental Health First Aid can help promote a healthy and high-performing workplace that recognizes the importance of mental health.”

One company’s approach. Ola Snow, chief human resources officer at Cardinal Health, told HR Brew that the company’s mental wellness benefits journey began to form around six years ago, after an executive at the company died by suicide. “It really put a spotlight on the severity of mental health in the workplace,” she said. “I knew we had both the capability to help, but also the responsibility to help our employees and our communities to help aid and provide better mental health resources.”

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Cardinal Health began offering the National Council on Mental Wellbeing’s MHFA training during the pandemic, so employees could be a lifeline if colleagues need it. “It ladders up to one goal: making sure that we are equipping participants with the skills to reach out and provide initial help and support to someone who may be developing a mental health or substance abuse issue, or a challenge that could lead to a mental health crisis,” Snow said.

Snow said that beyond MHFA training, employees need to see openness and vulnerability at the top. “I even talk about my own journey around mental health, especially during the pandemic,” she explained. “I talked about my high-functioning anxiety and how I struggled to sleep during the pandemic, as I was making some critical decisions for the organization.”

The training requires around 90 minutes of prework and six hours in a virtual learning environment. To date, about 1,100 Cardinal Health employees have completed the MHFA training and certification.

Big picture. To Snow, it’s not about one program, but an ecosystemof mental health support and education. In a recent Cardinal Health town hall, the company’s CEO spoke candidly about mental wellness, recognizing that it’s a health issue along the same lines as heart disease or other physical health problems. Employees and their families are provided with free mental health sessions, while people on the benefits and employee resource groups teams have access to a social worker. Cardinal Health also employs a full-time mental health consultant who provides guidance on which mental health benefits to offer next.

Finally, the company trains managers in QPR: question, persuade, refer. While Snow points out that it’s mainly for preventing suicide, it’s relevant for any mental health issues. The Cardinal Health counsel center and HR business partners provide support to managers so they’re not on their own and aren’t expected to be mental health professionals themselves. “They have a group of resources behind them with more expertise,” she said. “They can reach out and either connect the employee to their HR folks that can help even more, or our benefits teams if they’re not utilizing our benefits.”

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