By Dan Gephart, November 17, 2021

On the day Philadelphia Eagles’ offensive lineman Lane Johnson returned to action after a three-game absence, Atlanta Falcons’ wide receiver Calvin Ridley announced that he was stepping away from football for a while. What’s the big deal? The NFL injury report is a constantly fluid and ever-changing list, especially in the age of COVID.  What made this particular Sunday’s roster moves unique was that Johnson and Ridley cited mental health as the reason for their absences.

Earlier this year, tennis star Naomi Osaka and gymnast Simone Biles took their own leaves of absence from sports to address their mental health.

Elite athletes are not alone. There was a mental health crisis in this country before the pandemic, which has only exacerbated it further. Four in ten adults are reporting symptoms of anxiety and depression – up from one in ten during pre-pandemic times. There has also been a significant increase in substance abuse and suicidal ideation.

The pandemic-related increase in mental health challenges has hit essential workers the hardest. While most Americans immediately think of Uber drivers and Grub Hub deliverers, we all know the critical essential work of Federal employees in health, science, emergency assistance, and their supportive fields.

As a Philly sports fan, I watched the Lane Johnson situation closely. I was pleased with how the Eagles organization handled this very public health issue. (It’s one of the few things the 4-6 team has correctly done this year). It appears that the Atlanta Falcons are providing the same support for Ridley.

There is a mental health crisis in this country. And so having well-known figures discuss their challenges can be a real positive. Unfortunately, misinformation continues to spread.

Someone sent me a clip of a Fox Sports show where former NFL player Marcellus Wiley (no relation to FELTG’s Founding Father and former President) launched a several-minute tirade about mental health and sports. I highly recommend that you do NOT waste your time watching the clip. I think you will learn all that you need to know about his perspective from the tweet he sent out in advance of his show:

“The NFL is not a job for the physically weak or the mentally weak! #darwinism (But, there’s always work at that the post office.)”

In one sentence, the former linebacker found a way to demean mental illness and Federal employees. That’s a quick way to get on my @*#! list.

As we wrote two years ago, it’s not true that:

  • People with mental illness are unstable employees and more prone to violence.
  • People with mental health issues are unable to hold down a job.
  • Personality weakness or character flaws cause mental health problems.

So how do you provide a positive environment for employees with mental health conditions? One, you educate yourself. Personally, I’m a big fan of programs developed by the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI) – a great organization that has been a savior to many families during difficult times.

For a more specific approach for Federal supervisors and HR/EEO professionals, attend the two-hour virtual training event Managing Employee Mental Health Challenges During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic, presented by Shana Palmieri, LCSW, on December 9, starting at 1 pm ET.

In the meantime, consider the following suggestions by Shana for creating a trusting partnership with employees with mental health challenges.

  • Develop clear expectations and agreed upon solutions to meet the goals and expectations of the job
  • Communicate in a clear and concise manner, especially the policies and procedures that may impact their performance
  • Provide respectful, but direct feedback. Also, ask the employee how they prefer to receive the feedback,
  • Avoid judgments or assumptions.
  • Avoid using language that promotes stigma (crazy, insane, loco, nut job…).

Shana will provide plenty of specific examples of reasonable accommodations and offer useful insight into numerous mental health conditions. [email protected]

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