Mental health resources available as your employees return to work post-COVID-19

Gov. Phil Murphy is exercising caution in taking the steps necessary for New Jersey businesses to return to work following the quarantine phase of the state’s COVID-19 response. You’ve probably seen many articles and opinion pieces about how to prepare the workplace — using hand sanitizer, keeping employees at a safe distance, wearing gloves, etc. The Mental Health Association in New Jersey is highlighting one very important aspect of employees returning to work — preparing them to face the mental health challenges of returning to the job site after months of quarantine.

As businesses return to work, mental health issues won’t magically disappear. Some of your employees and their family members may have been infected themselves with the virus. And it is not out of the question that several may have experienced the death of a friend or relative. Imagine the stress and grief that these employees may be carrying. It is important for employers to recognize these challenges.

Some New Jersey employers have existing Employee Assistance Programs that employees can turn to for support and coping strategies as they return to work. I strongly encourage employers to remind their workforce of these programs and to encourage them to take advantage of the services they provide.

But many New Jersey companies don’t have such a resource for their employees. Make no mistake, many of your employees will be returning to work finding it difficult to deal with the fear, loneliness, anxiety, anger, grief and feelings of disconnection that have become so widespread during the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps they have left a child alone at home, because child care is so hard to find in this current environment. They may fear that going back out “into the world” will make them vulnerable to the infection — and guilty that they could potentially bring it home to their family. In fact, a recent Gallup poll reports that nearly half of Americans are concerned about being exposed to the coronavirus at their place of work.

There are any number of stress-inducing factors that may emerge as your employees return to work. Fortunately, these employees have a free, confidential resource to turn to.

The New Jersey Hope and Healing Crisis Counseling Program is available to help. The mission of the New Jersey Hope and Healing Crisis Counseling Program is to assist individuals and communities in recovering from the effects of natural and human-caused disasters through the provision of community-based outreach and psychoeducational services. This need is especially acute during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Employers are strongly urged to make their employees aware of the free, confidential helpline at 866-202-HELP (4357). Trained mental health staff are on call to provide emotional support and referrals for crisis counseling when needed, or to simply listen to a caller’s problems and concerns. The helpline is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. It has the ability to quickly patch in interpreters fluent in 165 languages.

In addition, a texting option is available. New Jersey residents can text NJHOPE to 51684 to be connected with a specialist who can answer questions, provide emotional support or referrals to needed resources.

Employers, please consider prominently posting and informing your workforce of these important resources. They should call 866-202-HELP (4357) or text NJHOPE to 51684 for mental health assistance and support.

These services are brought to you by the New Jersey Hope and Healing Crisis Counseling Program. The Mental Health Association in New Jersey, in collaboration with the New Jersey Department of Human Services’ Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services, is offering the CCP through a FEMA/SAMHSA grant.

Robert J. Kley is chief operating officer and vice president of the Mental Health Association in New Jersey.

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