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Five Questions with Dr. Ronald Copeland of Kaiser Permanente on Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace

Depression and other mental health conditions are a leading cause of workplace disability in the form of lost productivity because of how common they are–1 out of every 5 people are suffering from a mental health condition at any given time–and because they tend to occur when people are young.

Originally Published by National Organization on Disability.

Kaiser Permanente's focus on reducing mental health stigma for consumers and members also applies to its own employees. The National Organization on Disability caught up with Ron Copeland, MD, to understand how to best create a supportive and inclusive workplace for people who are experiencing a mental health condition.


Ronald Copeland, MD, FACS, is senior vice president, National Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Strategy and Policy and chief equity, inclusion, and diversity officer at Kaiser Permanente. Dr. Copeland has been a practicing physician and surgeon within the Kaiser Permanente health system for 25 years and since 2013 has championed Kaiser Permanente's equity, inclusion, and diversity agenda as a critical element of the organization's overall strategic goals.

Dr. Copeland joined the NOD Board of Directors in 2015, and in 2016 Kaiser Permanente became a President's Circle member of the NOD Corporate Leadership Council, a group of 50+ companies committed to advancing disability inclusion in the workplace. Because of Kaiser Permanente's exemplary employment practices for people with disabilities, NOD named the company a 2017 Leading Disability Employer™.

Dr. Copeland served as a panelist at an NOD Corporate Leadership Council roundtable dedicated to starting a dialogue and challenging outdated thinking on mental health in the workplace. NOD asked Dr. Copeland five key questions to find out why employers shouldn't overlook mental health in the workplace, how to reduce stigma and improve employee engagement, and what Kaiser Permanente is doing to build an inclusive culture.

1. Why is it as important to focus on mental health in the workplace as physical wellbeing?

Mental health conditions are on the rise globally. An estimated 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression, and the World Health Organization has predicted that by 2020 depression will be the second-leading cause of disease globally. Depression and other mental health conditions are a leading cause of workplace disability in the form of lost productivity because of how common they are–1 out of every 5 people are suffering from a mental health condition at any given time–and because they tend to occur when people are young. Three-quarters of mental health conditions arise before the age of 24. While these statistics seem daunting, it's important to remember most of these conditions are treatable.

However, mental health too often is treated as separate from physical health. One of Kaiser Permanente's core beliefs is that total health is more than freedom from physical affliction — it's about mind, body, and spirit. It's the philosophy we live and breathe. Part of our mission is to achieve total health for our employees, members, and the communities we serve. With respect to our employees, we know it's difficult to reach their full potential if they are experiencing physical or mental challenges. If we are committed to our employees achieving total health, we must treat mental health as importantly as we treat physical health, by creating an environment where people feel supported and psychologically safe, and where they have access to mental health services. There are resources available. There is hope.

2. Why is there still a stigma about mental health? Are you seeing a cultural sea change at all?

Stigma about mental health, driven by fear and misunderstanding, occurs because people often view conditions such as depression as character flaws instead of as treatable illnesses. Stigma has been largely absent from the dialog about how the health care industry and society overall should address the mental health epidemic. The stigma around mental health has led to harmful and biased ways of describing people with mental health conditions, and feeds the stereotypes that people living with mental health conditions are less than whole, abnormal, or dangerous.

As part of our "Find Your Words," public health awareness campaign, which is designed to help people start conversations around mental health issues, Kaiser Permanente conducted the first national consumer poll focused on stigma to assess attitudes and perceptions toward mental health. It uncovered some interesting contradictions: While 70 percent of respondents said people are more open about discussing mental health conditions compared to 10 years ago, more than half the respondents felt a family member or friend was struggling with a mental health issue, but not telling them.

As health care providers, we must make it safe and routine to talk with patients about mental health. It is as relevant as talking about chest pain or a broken limb. It is part of a patient's total health.

3. What does the research show about prioritizing mental health and inclusion?

Among the reasons employers can no longer afford to remain silent about mental health in the workplace is the direct connection between employees' mental health and the organization's bottom line. Research demonstrates that employees struggling with mental health conditions directly impact workplace productivity and performance:

  • Mental health conditions are the single greatest cause of worker disability in the U.S.
  • 62% of missed work days can be attributed to mental health conditions.
  • Employees with untreated mental health conditions use non-psychiatric health care services 3 times more than those who do get treatment.
  • Depressed employees are 20% to 40% more likely to become unemployed because of their condition.
  • People with depression have a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

But, again, we want people to understand there is hope. Treatment for depression and mental health conditions works – but people who feel the need to keep their depression hidden are far less likely to seek help. That is why we want to reduce the stigma around mental health conditions, so those who could benefit from treatment aren't afraid to seek it out.

4. What is Kaiser Permanente doing to make the workplace inclusive for people with disabilities, including mental health issues?

Creating an inclusive environment in the workplace helps employees feel safe and supported. If we're interested in the total health and wellness of our employees and patients, we must have the same level of empathy about a person's mental health as we do for their physical health. One of the ways we do this at Kaiser Permanente is through training and education around equity, inclusion, and diversity. Our Leading Inclusively program provides leaders and their teams the opportunity to gain knowledge, adopt attitudes, develop skills, and modify behaviors that contribute to Kaiser Permanente's goal of continuously becoming more inclusive.

Additionally, assessment and measurement play a significant role in how Kaiser Permanente approaches making our workplace culture more inclusive for people with disabilities, including mental health conditions. We participate in benchmarking and undergo several external assessments to identify improvement opportunities and effective workplace inclusion practices we can implement.

Specific to mental health conditions – our commitment to advancing the conversation on mental health and wellness runs throughout our organization and beyond. Our Chairman and CEO Bernard J. Tyson is actively leading a global dialogue about mental health, leading a panel on the topic at the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and participating in a discussion at Brainstorm Health 2018 on ways to reduce stigma around mental health issues, integrate mental and physical care, and build resilient communities.

Kaiser Permanente is piloting a Mental Health First Aid training course to empower employees and the community to respond compassionately to someone experiencing a mental health challenge.

And as part of our Find Your Words campaign, Kaiser Permanente partnered with national oral history project StoryCorps. We asked for volunteers – both inside and outside our organization – to share their personal experiences with mental health conditions. The conversations are powerful, and everyone who participated said they did it because they wanted to help others. Sharing these conversations builds awareness and empathy around mental health conditions and the hope is listeners will be inspired to step out and share as well.

5. What are things we all can do to create a more inclusive environment for those struggling with mental health issues?

We all can show compassion and empathy for those with mental health conditions. We can also talk more openly about mental health by sharing personal stories, which help those struggling with mental health issues feel less isolated. We can also reduce stigma by learning and sharing facts about mental health conditions and being mindful of the words we use to avoid reinforcing stigma and causing harm. By raising awareness about the mental health epidemic and making it safe for people to seek help, we can move toward achieving total health for all.

Kaiser Permanente: California Leaders Address Shortage of Mental Health Workers

"We — health care leaders, lawmakers, citizens, and educators — need to come together to tackle this issue, as the commission recommends, to put us on the right path to recruit, train, and retain more psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health workers who reflect the populations we serve."

Originally Published by Kaiser Permanente.

The California Future Health Workforce Commission issued its findings on the growing shortage of health care workers in California, including mental health professionals, in the face of steadily increasing demands for health care services throughout the state.

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Trial Begins Over Black Woman Unnecessarily Hospitalized Under Kendra's Law

A cop's disbelief of a Black woman driving a BMW lead her to being hospitalized as a mental health patient.

Kamilah Brock

A Black woman, who was irresponsibly and unnecessarily taken to a mental health facility, held against her will, misdiagnosed and "treated" for eight days, will finally have her day on court. The trial began on Monday.

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Kaiser Permanente’s Educational Theatre Expands Programs in South LA Schools

The schools, which make up the district's Jordan-Locke Network of schools, will receive Kaiser Permanente Educational Theatre's elementary programs by 2020.

(Originally published on Kaiserpermanente.org)

Thanks to a partnership between the Los Angeles Unified School District and Kaiser Permanente, 16 elementary schools in South LA are receiving enhanced education, family support, and community resources from an innovative source — live theatre.

The schools, which make up the district's Jordan-Locke Network of schools, will receive Kaiser Permanente Educational Theatre's elementary programs by 2020, potentially reaching more than 9,500 students and their families.

These interactive programs strive to help children and adults make informed decisions about their health and boost their social skills, both of which help build stronger communities. Each production includes a school assembly performance, followed by student and parent workshops.

"This is such an exciting opportunity to continue to strengthen our partnership with Los Angeles Unified School District to inspire students and families living in South Los Angeles to make healthy choices," said Gerry Farrell, director, Educational Theatre.

Educational Theatre partners and consults with Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center therapists on its family programs. Students and parents also receive follow-up educational and community resources from the center. Kaiser Permanente offers individual and family counseling, educational therapy, and college preparation courses at the center, which has provided a unique community service and commitment to South Los Angeles for more than 50 years.

"All our Jordan-Locke Network schools are heavily impacted and don't have many resources," said Luis Heckmuller, instructional director, Local South District. "This partnership brings resources and overall awareness about health and social issues to our community, reaching both parents and students."

Enhancing children's lives

Kaiser Permanente collaborates with Los Angeles's school district to enhance children's lives in the Jordan-Locke Network in other ways. As a follow-up to the conflict management program, Educational Theatre returned to Weigand Avenue Elementary with its "Beat the Odds" program for students and teachers. This program uses drumming to build social and emotional skills.

Educational Theatre also provided the 10-week program, "Eat. Play. Live.," for parents and guardians at Barrett Elementary to provide them with tools and information to create healthier households and families.

A day of service

Additionally, Educational Theatre and Kaiser Permanente Watts Counseling and Learning Center staff volunteers helped to complete Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service beautification projects in recent years at Jordan-Locke Network campuses. These projects included creating murals at Weigand Elementary and a library at BarrettElementary.

This year's MLK Day on January 21, 2019, featured something just as ambitious at 109th Street Elementary School: transforming a classroom into a new S.T.E.A.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) lab, and creating an outdoor garden with murals.

"The MLK Day projects are so uplifting," Heckmuller said. "Kaiser Permanente is making it a priority to go to our underserved schools to provide services we otherwise would not have. Their ongoing commitment helps us create a more equitable community — and for that we are very thankful."

Check out this video for highlights of the 2018 Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service at Barrett Elementary School.

Educational Theatre is a free Kaiser Permanente Community Health program that helps grades K through 12 students and their families in at-risk communities develop healthy, lifelong habits.

Visit Community Health to learn more about Kaiser Permanente's work in the community.

Kaiser Permanente: Improving Health Through Stable Housing

Kaiser Permanente initiatives strengthen affordable housing and health in the community.

Originally Published by Kaiser Permanente.

Three miles from Kaiser Permanente's national headquarters, an apartment building in a diverse neighborhood has provided affordable housing to residents of Oakland's San Antonio neighborhood for years.

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Lawsuit Claims NY Prisons Keep Mentally Ill Inmates Past Release Date

Six "free" men, all with mental illness, have been kept behind bars because the state has underfunded supportive housing for them. About 73 percent of the NY State prison population is people of color.

Reuters

On Wednesday, a federal lawsuit was filed to force New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to create community-based mental health housing for people who have been approved for parole or completed their criminal sentences.

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10-Year-Old Black Boy Commits Suicide Due to School Bullying, Says Mother

Seven Charles' mother said he was teased for his medical condition, choked and called a "n****r" by a peer.

Jefferson County Public School District is under fire because Seven Charles, a 10-year-old Black boy, killed himself after he endured constant bullying at Kerrick Elementary School in Louisville, his mother says.

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