New program looks to boost mental health in the WNY workplace

The body doesn’t end at the neck, which has mystified  what Victoria Davis has experienced as she has worked in the Western New York and Ohio health insurance markets.

“Based on my experience, more than two-thirds of companies with wellness programs focus just on physical wellness,” said Davis, who last year became manager of worksite and community well-being with the Mental Health Association (MHA) of Erie County.

National statistics that might make an employer reconsider:

– One in five people live with a diagnosable mental illness.

– Depression causes an estimated 200 million lost workdays – more than chronic diseases that include arthritis, diabetes and heart disease.

– Those with depression are twice as likely to develop coronary artery disease or have a stroke, and more than four times as likely to die within six months after a heart attack.

Davis and the Mental Health Association this month rolled out a new program – “Mindset: The path to mental well-being” – designed to help employers address the mental health needs in Erie County.

“We have three goals,” Davis said. “To reduce stigma in the workplace, open up the conversation around mental health, and lower the barriers for people to get help and connect to community resources.”

[RELATED STORY: New Era Cap finds savings, healthier morale in workplace wellness]

Twenty public and private companies have asked the association since 2014 to provide mental health training in their workplaces, including the city of Buffalo, two colleges and several manufacturers. New Era Cap will receive the association’s “Right Mindset” employer of the year award at the MHA annual dinner on April 12, for its work to develop a mental health plank in its wellness program.

The Mindset program goes beyond traditional employee assistance programs, creating a more varied, comprehensive training platform at a cost of $ 300 to $ 610 per session, Davis said. It focuses on three areas:

Enrichment: This program educates employers about why it’s important to bring mental health education into the workplace and how it can help boost morale and productivity, and lower bullying and stress. It comes with a toolkit to help create mental health wellness policies and strategies.

Engagement: This skills-based approach is designed to help employees create a better work-life balance. Programs include “How to Work and Cope With Family Stress”; “Mindful Eating,” to help maintain better health; a partnership with Power Yoga Buffalo to tailor yoga, mindfulness and meditation programs; and “Creating a Healthy Mind,” 1-hour seminars on topics including the mind-body connection and self-care.

Empowerment: “When you’re creating a culture of health, it really comes from leadership,” Davis said. This programming focuses on training management and leadership how to better identify, understand and respond to mental health issues in the workplace. Topics include mental health essentials, mood and depression, stress and anxiety, and psychological health and safety (bringing someone back to work after a mental health issue).

“A lot of what we’re talking about here is prevention/intervention,” said Karl Shallowhorn, director of community advocacy for the MHA of Erie County and Compeer Buffalo. “It’s not treatment. It’s getting people to the appropriate level of care so that they can be healthy.”

“This signals that it’s OK to get help and people need not be so afraid to talk about mental health,” Davis said. “Not only are you touching these workplaces and having an impact on these employees if you’re creating a culture of health, but that can also trickle down to the employee’s family. If somebody learns about a resource that can help a family member who’s struggling, they can bring that resource home. Ultimately, it’s going to create a healthier community.”

Employers interested can email or visit


Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon

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