More than 300 social workers and other professionals gathered on November 19 at Rutgers University for a day focused on behavioral health in the workplace and ways to reduce the stigma of mental health issues. The conference was a joint effort between the Rutgers School of Social Work’s Center for Leadership and Management and the Office of Continuing Education, as well as corporate sponsors.
Keynote speaker Patrick Kennedy recalled his early days as a former U.S. Representative for Rhode Island's 1st congressional district, and his struggle with bipolar disorder and drug addiction. Despite a public battle with his condition, he was re-elected and served 16 years in the House of Representatives.
“When I ran into a tough time, they didn’t throw me overboard. I was facing a crisis of confidence and fortunately I had the understanding and support of my constituents,” said Kennedy, who went on to become the author and lead sponsor of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. This dramatic piece of legislation provides tens of millions of Americans who were previously denied care with access to mental health treatment. Kennedy is now co-founder of One Mind for Research, which seeks to increase resources and efficiency in brain disorder research.
Not everyone facing a mental disorder or addiction has the support of his or her workplace. The one-day conference, called “A Brave New Workplace: Ending Stigma and Promoting Behavioral Health as a Key to Wellness,” brought together corporate human resource professionals with community behavioral health practitioners in an effort to bridge the gaps between. The conference was sponsored by Cigna, FEI Behavioral Health, Johnson & Johnson, LifeCare, Northeast Business Group on Health, NAMI-NYC, Prudential and the Rutgers School of Social Work.
“Many of today's workplaces are competitive, stressful and uncompromising when it comes to mental health and substance use problems among employees. Stigma surrounding such conditions can both impede productivity and affect the health and wellness of workers and their families. Through this event, we aim to raise awareness of these issues so that workplace leaders and social work professionals can work together to enhance employee wellness,” said Andy Germak, executive director of the Center for Leadership and Management.
From wellness programs that encourage employees to exercise and have health checkups to emotional support and referrals for behavioral health needs, companies today can do much to assist their employees.
“What if we lived in a world where no challenge to health was met with anything but help and assistance? Behavioral health is the foundation of health and we are poised to take a multidimensional view of health to the next level,” said Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio, vice president for health and wellness at Prudential.