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Are We Taking Care of Our Own in the Workplace?

Youth is wasted on the young.

If you’ve ever stopped to think about this sentiment that was inspired by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, you might have guessed that he was commenting on how young people don’t fully appreciate all the advantages that youth provides. I would add that many of us in our later years often think about how we might have done things differently with the benefit of experience.

After interviewing my friend and emotional fitness expert Susan Packard about her third and latest book for my Off the Rak series, I would venture to say that she feels young adults today are wise beyond their years, having already faced very adult challenges.

These challenges that she’s written about center on emotional fitness — specifically mental health and substance misuse. While the book is titled The Little Book of College Sobriety: Living Happy, Healthy, and Free, many older adults are finding these hopeful stories personally relevant.

This comes as no surprise since Susan explained that the American Psychological Association reports that nearly 85 percent of us will have some sort of mental health disorder in our lifetime. What’s more, if you believe like I do that poor mental health isn’t an individual disease but rather a family disease, then virtually every one of us is navigating our way through these issues.

It’s often said we have many family members in life. The ones we’re born with, the ones we choose, and the ones we spend the majority of our waking hours with at work!

In today’s workplaces, are we taking care of our own?

When I asked Susan what supporting mental health looks like in workplaces that are on the forefront, she pointed to the company Salesforce as an example. Like so many large companies, Salesforce is not without its challenges. However, Susan appreciates their open stance toward mental health support on the job. The company has a program called Soberforce that supports sobriety at work. Soberforce launched at a time when people were struggling with substance misuse due to the isolation brought on by the pandemic.

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During the period of March through September in 2020, alcohol sales spiked 20 percent compared with the prior year. Grassroots programs like this are an essential step toward dismantling the stigma surrounding substance disorders and sobriety. A year and a half after the program’s launch, Soberforce had more than 450 members.

Bringing wellness to the workplace is one of the many ways we can create awareness and support for substance issues that Susan stresses are incubated or exacerbated in college. Junior staff often bring these behaviors to their careers, where companies like Salesforce are providing a safe network to process the systemic events and explore practices that mitigate triggers.

“Our culture thinks addiction is weakness, but it’s really the language of the deeply wounded.”

– Susan Packard

The response to Salesforce’s program signals a greater acceptance that people need help, yet the stigma around mental illness still lingers. A Harris Poll revealed that 87 percent of American adults agreed that having a mental health disorder is nothing to be ashamed of, and 86 percent said they believed that people with mental health disorders can get better. Yet 39 percent agreed they would view someone differently if they knew that person had a mental health disorder.

Like many social matters, emotional fitness is a concern that’s come a long way, but we still need more progress. As Susan says, “Our culture thinks addiction is weakness, but it’s really the language of the deeply wounded.” Wounds can heal if we’re willing to acknowledge them.

Let’s join Susan’s efforts to take notice of behaviors that often start as young adults and can continue well into our adult lives. Let’s also remember that mental illness and symptoms like substance misuse aren’t just one person’s issue; it’s everyone’s issue, especially if they’re a family member at home, in life, or at work.

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