OPM reminds feds of mental health importance

Monday - 6/23/2014, 12:48pm EDT

By Ellen Kortesoja
Federal News Radio

The Office of Personnel Management released a memo Thursday underscoring the importance of mental health at agencies and how to identify those in distress.

The memo came just days before Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus honored those killed in the Navy Yard shooting at a ceremony in Luetze Park Monday morning. At the ceremony, he also recognized the heroic actions of those involved on September 16, 2013, when Aaron Alexis, a Defense Department contractor, killed 12 people and injured more.

In the memo, OPM Director Katherine Archuleta and Pamela Hyde, administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration at the Health and Human Services Department, outline the importance of identifying employees who show signs of mental illness and providing those employees with available support.

The memo details the unsettling statistics of mental illness in the U.S. Employers lose millions of dollars in lost productivity due to adults suffering from depression. Further, fewer than half of Americans needing mental health care receive it, according to the memo.

OPM is asking agency leaders to distribute fact sheets. The Supervisor Fact Sheet details warning signs of individuals contemplating suicide. Those signs include talking about feeling hopeless, displaying extreme mood swings and talking about feeling trapped or being a burden to others.

The Employee Fact Sheet provides mental health information showing the prevalence of the problem for many adults.

Archuleta and Hyde said that health programs available through work sites can reduce problems of poor mental health.

According to OPM, supportive workplaces do three things:

(Directly from OPM memo):

  • Educate workers on the basics of mental health and the signs of distress (including suicide warning signs)
  • Decrease concerns associated with seeking help
  • Enhance emotional health through social connectedness, resilience, and improved problem-solving skills.

Two resources are also available to individuals and families dealing with mental health problems. Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) provide short-term care and referrals. OPM also points federal employees and their families to Federal Employees Health Benefits insurance plans to explore what services and treatment are available.

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