Mental Health: Guidance for Helping Employees in Need | SOS Podcast

Mental Health: Guidance for Helping Employees in Need | SOS Podcast

According to a National Safety Council report, only one out of every of two employers prepare their managers to recognize and appropriately respond to mental health needs. At a time when stress, anxiety, and workplace burnout are at an all-time high, the need for resources has never been greater. In this podcast episode, Dr. Dustin Keller, CEO of Camelot Care Centers and Vice President of Products for Pathways at Work provides basic guidance for helping employees in need with practical strategies anyone can use.



Episode Transcript

Joe White (00:00):
According to a National Safety Council report, only 50% of companies prepare their managers to recognize and appropriately respond to mental health needs in the workplace. This is a topic of growing importance and one I hope we can shed more light on today.

Hello, and thank you for joining us today. My name is Joe White, and I'm the host of Supervisor Skills: Secrets of Success. The SOS podcast series is produced for the ongoing development of front-line managers. With each episode, we take on a topic of interest and interview a subject matter expert for the benefit of our listeners.

In today's episode, we're going to talk about mental health, a subject that's been avoided by many for far too long in labor-dependent industries. My guest today is Dr. Dustin Keller, CEO of Camelot Care Centers, and Vice President of Products for Pathways at Work. Dr. Keller lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and has a Ph.D. in psychology from North Central University. Welcome Dustin, and thank you for joining us today.

Dustin Keller (01:09):
Hey Joe, thanks for having us on today. We're excited to be here.

Joe White (01:13):
Absolutely. Dustin, if you would just take a few moments, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Dustin Keller (01:19):
Well, as, as you've already said, I have a Ph.D. in psychology. I'm a licensed professional counselor. My background is in individual therapy with clients, but I have somewhere around 20-25 years in training and leading behavioral health companies and working with folks in the field who do this work day in and day out. Now, with Pathways at Work, we've reached out to companies to try to help them provide sessions to their employees around more sort of generic mental health type topics, depression, work-life balance, burnout, stress, and anxiety, in hopes that we can be preventative or even early interventive to get in there and help employees understand that we're all dealing with stress and anxiety. Lots of us now, especially during the pandemic are dealing with burnout or work-life balance.

So we want to be there so we can give them tips and techniques to really try to hit these issues head-on, and let's talk about it. Because we know when employees come to work, ready to work, they're a lot more productive and a lot more engaged and we enjoy work more. But when we're dealing with stress and anxiety and those kinds of things, as we'll talk about, it really slows us down.

Joe White (02:31):
Great. Thank you for that overview. The topic today obviously is mental health and for those that might be listening, when you hear that term and I want to get your take on it. Dustin, what does that mean? When we hear the term mental health? What does that actually entail?

Dustin Keller (02:47):
Sure. For me, it's everything outside of our physical health. For everything outside, you go to the doctor, they draw blood. That would be the physical side of things. And so it's everything for me outside of what we can't test with a blood test. And there are certain things now that we can even, we can even get in there and look at them that way as well. But it's how we're feeling about ourselves and about the world around us. It's the things we say to ourselves in our heads. It's all of those things that encompass when we get up in the morning until we go to sleep, or for some of us who can't even sleep, it's all of those things combined.

Joe White (03:24):
Okay. You had mentioned earlier or previously where you had mentioned the pandemic, and some of the things that we've seen coming out of that, and we're certainly on the downhill side of it, fortunately at this point, and I'll tell you in the last, I'll say six to eight months, I've read several articles that suggest stress, anxiety, and depression are more prevalent now than any point in the recent past. Now, I'm going to ask you as a professional, is that true or is that, is it just that we're becoming more aware of these topics?

Dustin Keller (03:59):
I wish that it was just because we're becoming more aware. I would say it's wholeheartedly true Joe.

Over the past year, we've all been in a space of, kind of toxic stress and anxiety and it just really has laid on us. And we haven't been able to do the self-care type things, going to sporting events, going to concerts, going out to dinner with friends and family. We haven't been able to do that. And that's kind of our protective layer that keeps our mental health in check and helps us refill our cup. And lots of us are going empty. We're giving and giving and giving, and we don't have more to give. So, that stress and anxiety are real. I would say pre-pandemic, 20% of people, a little less than 20% of people dealt with anxiety type disorders.

Dustin Keller (04:46):
Statistics coming out now are saying anywhere from 40 to 60% of the population was struggling with an anxiety disorder, not to mention the increasing depression. We're seeing lots of research around where we are now, where we're opening back up and we're trying to get back out there and they'd come out with this new term called languishing. And it's this idea that there were things that we missed. We want to get back out there, but there are also things we liked about the pandemic. We got to stay home, or we didn't have to do certain things because of the pandemic. And we liked that. Well, now that we're getting back out there, we're struggling with, "wait a minute, I'm going to lose that. And I'm not really sure still about this." So we're kind of just in this weird funk of a place.

Joe White (05:32):
I tend to, I know in my own personal experience, I mean, we're certainly in uncharted territory. We're still in that almost that hybrid mix of a little bit of the past and a little bit of the step forward. And it is awkward. I know, going to the gym, for example, some people still wear a mask and others don't and there's this, "do I get near you?" I mean, there's so much of it that it's just uncharted territory.

Dustin Keller (05:57):
Most definitely. I saw a great Saturday Night Live clip this past weekend with every post-pandemic conversation where you don't know what to say. You don't know where to go, but I think there's some comfort in the fact that we're sort of all in this awkward place together. Being a business leader, as are most of the folks listening who are more mid-level managers, the struggle you're having is, what do you tell your employees? What do we do? Should we continue to wear a mask? Should we not continue to wear a mask? And we know what the CDC says and all of that, it's just it. As you said, "it is a very unprecedented time." And I know most of us are probably tired of that word, but we just never been here before and we're all learning through this together.

Joe White (06:47):
The listeners that are joining us today come from a wide range of industries. Most of them are going to likely be labor-dependent in nature. Those are the companies that rely on their workforce to build service or ship something. Why is mental health something that they really need to be paying attention to? And why is it important to them?

Dustin Keller (07:07):
You know, Joe, I think for lots of those industries, when I talk with leaders in those industries, 20 or 30 years ago, we were just concerned about the bottom line. Over the last 20 years, we realized that safety is of paramount importance in all of these types of industries. We have to keep our employees safe, to be able to continue to come to work and do the work that we need them to do in a very productive manner.

Dustin Keller (07:34):
We know that mental health issues and struggles, cost labor industries millions, if not billions, of dollars every year. We know that if employees don't come ready to work in the sense that they've got their mind and body ready to go to do what they need to do, they can't do it.

It's sort of like having children come to school, ready to learn. If they don't come well-fed and have a good night's sleep, they're not going to learn. The same is true for our employees. If they don't come ready to build, ready to construct, and able to kind of shut their mind down and focus on what they're doing. It can lead to safety accidents. It leads to increased absenteeism and it leads to downtime. And then that can lead to cost overruns and all of those kinds of things that play into when we can't finish the job on time. It's extremely important that we make sure our employees are safe and ready to come to work.

Joe White (08:32):
And again, in the industries that we're talking about in many instances, they're high-hazard. If you're, for example, a steel erector, you don't get a whole lot of second chances if you make a mistake when you're 40-50 feet in the air.

Dustin Keller (08:49):
That's exactly right. And if I'm worried about my home life, post- or even pre-pandemic, if I'm worried about something that's happening with my spouse and myself or my family, and if I let my mind wander for, even a split second, sometimes that can be the difference in life and death. And so we want to make sure that those folks are appropriately dealing with that stress and that anxiety, or even that depression or that mental health concern, so that we can ensure their safety and the safety of the crew around them.

Joe White (09:20):
In an earlier interview, we had a podcast guest, Cam Marston, who's a generational expert. And he referenced that we really need to be paying attention to emerging or newer generations in some of the mental health issues or tendencies that may be coming with that, or with those generations. But the question I have related to that is, are mental health concerns uniformly shared across all five generations that are now in the workplace, or are there specific tendencies unique to each one of them?

Dustin Keller (09:58):
I would say that that by and large, you're going to see lots of these same mental health concerns. Especially right now during the pandemic, as we move into this post-pandemic phase, stress and anxiety are high, work-life balance is high, and burnout is at an all-time high. And, and I want to say burnout here... if you hear your employees talking about that, or you're concerned about burnout by and large. What we're seeing is that while employees may be leaving the company to go work somewhere else, they're finding that it's not the job or the company they're burned out with. They're burned out with the pandemic. They're burned out with not getting to do some of those things we talked about that are kind of natural self-care things that help us, fill up our cup. But I would say that statistics are showing that in some of the younger generations, there is a concern about resiliency and coping skills and that they may not come to the workplace with as many of those types of coping skills.

Dustin Keller (10:55):
We have to be mindful that some of those folks, or a larger portion of those folks, may come to the workforce, not able to handle disappointment, or in the same way as that, that other, other colleagues or coworkers are able to do that.

Joe White (11:10):

Dustin Keller (11:10):
Just being mindful that, it may take them a little bit longer to kind of rebound or to cope when... when they don't get promoted or they don't get to do that aspect of the job. And they also, they want a little more involvement in the process and a little more communication than what my generation might've wanted. It's just certain things you definitely want to be mindful of. But I would say, especially right now, by and large, we're all in this dealing with the same kind of levels of stress and anxiety. And, and some of that is now turning into longer-term depression and feelings of isolation. And so we're seeing that across the board.

Joe White (11:50):
Wow, okay. Thank you for that. If I'm a supervisor, what are some of the things that I should be looking for? How do I know that one of my direct reports may be struggling with some sort of issue, mental health issue, in one way or another?

Dustin Keller (12:04):
I think that's a great question, because for me, it's extremely easy. You see these folks day in and day out more than the people they chose to live with, more than their spouses, than their roommates, their family. You spend more waking hours and you communicate with them more than anybody else in their life. We're at work eight hours a day, five days a week. We know their standard behaviors. We know the standard things they say or talk about or joke about. We know how often they're late, how often they show up or call out sick. We know their standard behaviors. What we're looking for is those changes in behavior. Hey, their work productivity is decreasing or their quality of work.  They're not turning in the same kind of quality work day in and day out, or they start missing a lot. It's really easy because we see them day in and day out and you know when something's amiss just by that small behavior change.

Joe White (13:04):
And that's something as a supervisor, regardless of the industry, I'm easily able to relate to that because I fully agree with that. That's something that, whether it be a coworker or someone that works in your office, or on the job site with, you will notice when something is out of the norm. If you're a supervisor and you do see or recognize that sudden shift in someone's demeanor, their behavior, their personality, what should you do?

Dustin Keller (13:31):
This is the easiest part, but I think this is where most people are scared. They don't know, or they don't want to get into this to the stickiness of it, or they're like, "Hey, I don't know about depression. And I don't want to talk about that. I don't want to get into that." But the thing here is, it's just about asking if they're okay, it's acknowledging that you've seen something. It's really easy to go up to them and say, "Hey man, is everything going all right?" And more than likely, they're going to say, "Yeah, I'm good, I'm fine." And you know them. So at this point, you can reply back and say, "Well, you know, I've noticed that you've come in late the last three days this week," or "I've noticed that, your job quality is not the same. I mean, we had to, we had to re braise that last piece that you worked on, and we've never had to do that before. Tell me, kind of what's going on. Something's amiss."

Dustin Keller (14:27):
Usually that opens the door for them to feel open to talk about it, or at least give you some indication that something more might be happening here. And I think that's when you can lean in and provide either company-related resources, like an EAP, or encourage them, if they have health insurance, to go see a therapist. There's lots of talk and text-type crisis lines that they could call and get some resources, and certainly would encourage that as well. But it's really easy to open that door and to have that conversation.

Joe White (15:01):
You mentioned that. And I was thinking about early in my career, I was in my late twenties and I'll share a personal experience I had. I was a superintendent and had responsibility for the safety of the construction of this particular site. We had over 2,000 contract employees on that particular location. And I was in my office one day, right after launch and I heard the door to my office slam, and I looked up and there was a gentleman, a contract employee that was sitting at the table in front of the office. And the tears were just running down his eyes. And, I knew the guy, but I didn't know him well. And so I asked him, I said, "Hey, what's going on?" And the guy just says, "I want to kill myself." And now I'm in my late twenties nothing has ever prepared me for that sort of event.

And I'm sitting there looking at him, thinking to myself, okay, is he going to kill himself? Is he, I mean... Is this going to be something that happens in front of me? I mean, a million thoughts are going through my head. And so I just started talking with him. What I found out is that he was going through a divorce. He had been married to his wife for a number of years. And it was a very ugly divorce. I mean, there were a lot of things, there was a chemical dependency involved, some other things that were in play, but nothing in the world had prepared me for that moment, but it was in front of me and I had to deal with it.

And as the case may be, there was an individual I knew that did counseling through his church and I was good friends with him. I called him in, and it really helped, but I was not prepared for that moment. I can tell you, and I, as you were talking about that, I was going, "boy, if I'd have had someone to help me in the past, prepare for that moment, I would have been far better, far better off."

Dustin Keller (16:51):
But you did the perfect thing, Joe, you talked to him. In those situations, much like you, everybody I've ever talked to that's had that happened is scared to death, but at the end of the day, he wanted the same thing you would've wanted if you were in that situation. Somebody just to say, "Tell me what's going on. What's happening? Let me help." They want to get it out. They want to talk about it. They want some relief and lots of times, if they are suicidal, they may not feel like they can find that relief and that may be the only way out. And the truth is, that there are a lot of other ways out. There's a lot of other ways to deal with it. And, having that conversation is a great way to start.

I think the other thing is I would say that we also tend to give grace, which means we might dismiss it. In the sense that, "oh, I know why he's showing up late, because I know he's getting into this, or I know it's the pandemic, or we're all stressed, or I know that he and his wife are having trouble." And, I would say that those are the times we really need to lean in the most and have those conversations. And even if you've already had this conversation and things aren't improving, continuing to keep that door open and continuing to go back and just say, "Hey man, I'm checking on you. I want to see how you're doing. I know we talked about this and, and I want to keep bugging you, but I'm always here." Lots of times just keeping that line of communication open, because you never know when you'll get that door-slamming day, where they'll want to, they'll want to let loose.

Joe White (18:26):
Just to sort of summarize that, the engagement process, if you're a supervisor or you're a support resource on a project or for a company, and you do know that there appears to be an employee that may be struggling... that engagement process sounds like really nothing more than just being a sounding board, letting that individual open up and talk, but you don't necessarily have to have the solutions. You're just giving them the opportunity to talk. Is that right?

Dustin Keller (18:56):
That's correct. Most definitely. Yeah, most definitely. You're just there to talk. And then, certainly knowing what your company provides in the way of resources. Most of the time, it's an EAP, like I said, or some insurance. The 1-800-273-TALK number is a great national resource. But again, just having that conversation, more than 50% of the time, it's really what that person needs. And it can really put them on the path to something better. You don't need all the answers and you don't even have to know how to fix it, but just letting them get it off their chest is greatly therapeutic.

Joe White (19:34):
I love that because when I opened this [episode] up, the comment I made was about a National Safety Council report that said 50% of companies, aren't preparing their managers to identify or to be able to deal with mental health. And just the advice you've given. One is you recognize it through a change in behaviors, change in their demeanor. And then you have the ability to say, "Hey, what's going on? Anything that you would like to talk about? I've noticed there have been some changes." And then letting vent anybody can do that. I mean, that's not something that requires a trained counselor, or professional, someone with a Ph.D. to be able to do. And, as you pointed out, you're going to see it first. You're going to be the one on the job site or in the manufacturing facility that sees it before anybody else.

Dustin Keller (20:25):
That's exactly right. It's sometimes gets compared to CPR. We all learned CPR to keep our folks safe on a worksite. But if you ask people, how many of you have actually had to perform CPR or even seen it performed in real life, I've never personally. But I've had tons of these conversations, not just because I'm a counselor, but even outside my job. I've had tons of these kinds of conversations. And I would bet that the large majority of you in your personal life, if it were a friend or family member, you would have this conversation in a heartbeat because you love them. You want to protect them. The same is true for our friends that we work with our coworkers and colleagues. It's just as easy to say, "Hey, I'm here for you."

Joe White (21:10):
That's great advice. This is such a needed topic of discussion in multiple industries that we serve. We've talked a lot up to this point about precautionary measures, things that we need to be aware of, things that we can do. I do want to ask you, are there any red flags? Are there things that we really should be paying attention to? If we see those, that's something we've got to deal with immediately, or does anything come to mind?

Dustin Keller (21:39):
Certainly. You opened that door and hit on it in a big way. Suicide. Someone talking about not wanting to be around anymore, can't take it anymore. Thoughts of killing themselves. And sometimes just asking that question, "Hey, have you thought about suicide, or have you thought about killing yourself?" If you get up the nerve to ask that question to someone that you think might be in that situation, be prepared for a "yes" because I can guarantee you most people won't ask that question unless they have, some hard, fast evidence that they think it might be something serious, but that's the best question you can ask. And even if they say, "no." There's no harm, no foul, but it shows that care and concern. Suicide or thoughts like that are certainly a red flag.

Second to that is substance abuse and alcohol. We know that especially during the pandemic with lots of people working from home or being cooped up at home, having a bottle of alcohol, somewhere in the house... we get used to just taking a little bit more and the statistics show that that's on the rise. And so if we notice that someone is coming in either, more days than not with that smell on their breath, or the bloodshot eyes in that regard, it might be worth having a conversation to just say, "Hey, I've noticed that you seem to be a little more involved here in using substances or drinking and I want to help you out and talk to you about it." That those are the two big things that I think you should watch out for.

Joe White (23:11):
Thank you so much. If I summarize this and I try and leave the listener with something that they can go do today, coming through this, going through this discussion, there's just so much here that's been shared that is of benefit and value. What's one thing that if I'm a listener I can go do today?

Dustin Keller (23:48):
Certainly. I think it's just having that open door for your employees. We talk about this in office space scenarios where we actually have doors and, I have this open-door policy and I'm always willing to come to talk to you, but just letting your team know, letting your employees know, that you're there for them. You're open to talking about some of these things and you care about them in that way. That's the best thing that you can provide. If you know right now of someone... if while we've been talking, you're like, "Yeah, I know that person [whose] behavior has changed or something different has happened."

However, you're listening to this podcast, if you get up from that and make that phone call or go walk over and talk to them and say, "Hey, I noticed, and I just want to know that is everything okay?" You really can make a huge difference in your life and your team's life. And once your team sees that you're doing it for one person, they're more likely to come to you if they're in a similar situation. You kind of open that door just by reaching out to one, it gives everybody else the opportunity as well.

Joe White (24:59):
The unfortunate reality of this discussion and recognizing the number of folks that we may reach with this podcast, it's not a matter of if mental health exists as an issue. It's a matter of where. It's a matter of identifying it's there. I mean, the statistics clearly prove that it's there. We have to be mindful of that. We're not talking about something you may never have an opportunity to see or identify; it's there. It's just a matter of will you recognize it and will you be prepared to deal with it when you see it?

Dustin Keller (25:35):
Definitely. Will you have the willingness, certainly.

Joe White (25:37):
Dustin, thank you so much. It was a pleasure speaking with you. I know we've talked a little bit in the past and I cannot thank you enough for taking time out today to join us and to share this information.

Dustin Keller (25:48):
Definitely, Joe, it's been a pleasure to be here. Sorry, it has to be under a topic like this. But certainly, I have enjoyed it and look forward to coming back in the future.

Joe White (25:55):
Awesome. Thank you so much. For those listening today that may want to get in touch with Dustin to learn more about Pathways, to learn more about the services that his organization provides, there's contact information for him in the show notes of this episode. I certainly hope you found this discussion of value and benefit. If so, please help us spread the word. Share the podcast with others who you know may have an interest as well. The SOS Podcast series is brought to you by AEU LEAD, a consultancy dedicated to the needs of front-line managers. FOr additional information, or to follow us on social media, please use the links in the show notes provided. That's it for now. Stay safe and thanks for listening.


About Dustin Keller, Ph.D., LPC-MHSP

Dustin received his Ph.D. in Psychology from Northcentral University and is a Licensed Professional Counselor-Mental Health Service Provider and a National Certified Counselor.  He received his undergraduate degree from Austin Peay State University and his Masters in Educational Psychology and Counselor Education from Tennessee Technological University.  He is certified as an expert from the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. Dustin is now serving as the Chief Executive Officer for Camelot in Tennessee providing leadership and strategic development. He is also an adjunct professor in psychology at Belmont University having previously instructed at Tennessee Technological University, Lambuth University and University of Phoenix. He has served as the Council on Children’s Mental Health Director with the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, the Project Director for the Tennessee Lives Count Project and has been a Lead Specialized Crisis Counselor with Youth Villages.  Working in a part-time private practice, he has worked with a variety of clients from children and families, couples, and older adults.  Dustin has served on various non-profit boards including Tennessee Alliance for Children and Families, Nashville Public Radio, March of Dimes and Mediation Services.  He currently serves as the Past President for the Tennessee Conference on Social Welfare.  Dustin regularly conducts trainings and workshops on a variety of issues including, leadership development, employee and personal motivation, mental health, children and youth, and suicide prevention. He currently lives with his wife and six-year-old son in Nashville, TN.


Where you can find Dustin


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