Removing the Stigma of Mental Health in the Workplace

    [fa icon="calendar"] May 29, 2024 1:06:24 PM / by Jenny Kakasuleff

    Jenny Kakasuleff

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    As part of our One Goodwill Strategic Plan, launched in 2022, Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana developed a number of initiatives aimed at improving the mental health support provided to the people we employ, educate and serve. One of these initiatives included hiring a Mental Health Strategist, an entirely new role created to support the organization as we sought to create a culture that removes the stigma surrounding mental health. 

    Learn more about Sarah Ash, Goodwill’s Mental Health Strategist, and how she envisions making an impact in her new role.

    Tell us about your background and experience in the mental health care field.

    I am a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) and have worked in settings such as schools, child welfare, health care, emergency services and private practice therapy. Depending on the role, my support of individuals’ mental health may have looked like barrier removal (much like Goodwill’s mission and life coaches offer to Goodwill employees and graduates), legal advocacy or traditional talk therapy. Fortunately, this sort of varied experience gave me a tremendous amount of insight into the way we approach “care” for others and how much more creative and expansive our care can be!

    Describe your current role at Goodwill.

    Currently, I serve as Goodwill of Central and Southern Indiana’s Mental Health Strategist. This role was created in alignment with the Strategic Plan, which has a strategic objective dedicated to supporting the mental health of the individuals Goodwill employs, educates and serves. So far, this has looked like forming relationships across the organization to understand the unique challenges different areas face before partnering with them to develop ways to address those challenges. It has been exciting to think through the nuanced support we can implement in such a broad and diverse organization.

    What are some of the challenges employers are grappling with in terms of mental health in the workplace?

    The World Health Organization defines mental health as, “a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well and contribute to their community.” Even if we can all more or less agree on what mental health is, what we each need as individuals to achieve it can be vastly different! For employers, this can be a really challenging reality to navigate because it means that each employee needs something unique. So attempting to build something that is both equitable and adaptable is very difficult, but important work. 

    How is Goodwill responding to these challenges?

    Some of the responses I’ve seen are increasing communication to understand our employees, making strides to reduce mental health stigma, investing in benefits that empower individuals to access the care they might need and increasing the presence of or access to mental health professionals in the work environment.

    What are some ways that leaders can prioritize mental health in the workplace? 

    Remember to view employees as people first and make strides to foster a culture of care and support! While robust benefits and programs are absolutely important, recognizing our workplace is a community where people deserve to feel psychologically safe and emotionally supported is equally important.

    In five years, how do you envision the culture at Goodwill shifting to support mental health? 

    My hope is that mental health continues to be integrated in the experience of Goodwill as it is cemented into a defining part of our culture. For those we employ, educate and serve, this could mean they are empowered, from day one to consider their mental or emotional needs as a necessary component of the potential we strive to help them reach – and not just a side-effect of having reached that potential. (i.e. Because I am aware of my emotional needs and have taken steps with support to maintain my mental health, I am able to achieve my goals.)

    From there; I hope that through modeling, training and development, we as a community of support for one another feel confident in our ability to navigate mental health challenges that arise and encourage appropriate use of the resources we provide. Finally, that those resources are both flexible and comprehensive enough to make a lasting impact on an individual's overall well-being. It’s a big vision but one I feel wholly confident is possible!

    Are you interested in working for Goodwill of Central & Southern Indiana? Visit our careers page to see our current opportunities. 

    Topics: Employment, mental health, Mission Awareness, DEI

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