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United Way of Northwest Vermont (UWNWVT), an organization dedicated to improving lives in Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle counties, has created an employer toolkit in response to local businesses and employers expressing increasing concern about how to help their employees access mental health resources.

The toolkit, An Employer Guide to Supporting Employee Mental Health, was developed by United Way’s Working Bridges program and the Mental Health Initiative and is available online here: https://bit.ly/mental-health-toolkit. The guide includes local resources, tips for recognizing and responding to mental health challenges, and recommended policies, benefits and everyday practices to build a supportive and inclusive workplace culture.

United Way’s Working Bridges is an innovative program designed to improve job retention, productivity, and advancement by supporting employees with community resources. Using the workplace to connect with employees directly, Working Bridges Resource Coordinators help Vermonters reach stability and thrive while supporting human resource departments and reducing employee turnover.

“Supporting employee mental health has increasingly come up as a top concern for our employer partners. It can be hard for employers to know where to start because we often treat mental health as a separate issue, but it is just as important to address as our physical health. This toolkit aims to destigmatize conversations about mental health in the workplace,” said Connie Beal, director of United Way’s Working Bridges program.

An estimated 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience a mental illness each year. The uncertainty and disruption caused by the pandemic have exacerbated those existing mental health concerns for some and seen others having their first experience with a mental health concern or crisis.

“United Way of Northwest Vermont launched the Mental Health Initiative to address challenges that predate the pandemic but have become even more urgent over the past two years. This collective impact project leverages the participation of 100-plus community members to solve, at scale, many of our most pressing problems in the system of mental health care,” said Steven Berbeco, director of United Way’s Mental Health Initiative. 

Employers play an important role in supporting employees who may be facing mental health and other life challenges by connecting them to resources and acting as a source of stability and continuity in their lives. Supporting employees and offering them wraparound services benefits not only the employee, but also the employer, by increasing retention and productivity while fostering a sense of community within the workplace at large.

There are significant costs to employers when their employees’ mental health needs go unmet. The annual cost of days lost per employee due to mental distress is almost $5,000, according to the National Safety Council.

“All of us – our families, our co-workers, our neighbors – have realized mental health is an issue that affects everyone regardless of socio-economic status or where we live in the community. These challenges are exacerbated when you add in the intersectionality of issues like race, gender, disability and sexuality,” said UWNWVT CEO Jesse Bridges. “Promoting mental health is a key priority for United Way and we’re addressing the issue from several different angles, including how to increase mental health supports in the workplace.”

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