Mental Health in the Workforce

 In Advocating, Innovating

On July 28th, 2021, the El Paso Chamber hosted their fifth event in their “Rebuild & Reimagine” series, sponsored by Workforce Solutions Borderplex and the County of El Paso. Over the course of the year, the series will examine industries and topics with the ultimate goal of provoking conversation around how El Paso can move forward from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The fifth event—“Rebuild & Reimagine: Mental Health in the Workplace”—focused on the importance of understanding the mental health problem of today’s labor force and why mental health is integral in a holistic view of health. The Forum was hosted by Leila Melendez, CEO of Workforce Solutions Borderplex. The panel consisted of Rene Hurtado, Chief External Affairs Officer at Emergence Health Network; Isidro Torres, Executive Director of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) El Paso; and Monica Amaro, Program Manager of the El Paso Collaborative for Academic Excellence at UTEP. 

Mental health is by no means a new concept, nor is it an uncommon one, research done by NAMI shows that 1 in 5 adults experience mental illness each year. When gone unchecked, mental health issues can cause major problems, not only for the people who have them, but in the businesses they work for. Isidro Torres stated that depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions have cost the global economy over a trillion dollars in lost productivity. Rene Hurtado added, “When companies’ wellness initiatives include mental health it reduces internal [conflict], it reduces absenteeism, and you create a more engaged workforce.” 

COVID-19’s effect on mental health in the workforce in El Paso. Monica Amaro spoke on the drastic impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on working parents. As businesses and schools switched over to a virtual format, parents and their children were both stuck at home. Daycare and Pre-K facilities also shut down leaving parents without childcare options during the work day. The panel emphasized the importance of supporting all working parents, but they also pointed out that working mothers were disproportionately affected during the pandemic, as women made up 80% of the 1.1 million people who left the workforce during late 2020. As we move forward, it’s important that businesses understand the mental strain and anxiety working parents face and support their employees in finding childcare for their children. Rene Hurtado also highlighted the fact that El Paso has large military, law enforcement, Latinx, and youth communities, all of which are at higher risk of suffering from mental health issues. 

Starting a discussion around mental health can be a challenging task, but it is not one that businesses need to undertake alone. There are a number of different national, and local organizations that specialize in mental health and can help businesses find where to start. The panel advised employers on finding ways to acknowledge and support employees dealing with mental health issues. Large scale efforts to address the stigmas surrounding mental health or incorporating coverage for mental health disorders into company insurance plans can greatly assist employees. Even low cost initiatives such as providing quiet areas where employees could take private telehealth calls with psychiatrists or therapists, or creating designated spaces for nursing mothers. For employees struggling with how to approach their employer about mental health issues, the panel encouraged them to approach it the same way you would talk about taking time off for a doctor’s appointment or a medical emergency. They also advocated for employees to speak with their healthcare providers to come up with coverage plans that they could discuss with their employers. 

To watch the full event visit the Chamber’s Facebook page, and for future “Rebuild & Reimagine” events please contact the El Paso Chamber at [email protected]