FedEx Shooting, A Wakeup Call to Employers on the Importance of Mental Health

The world lost 11 souls this week, and I, like many across the country, am deeply saddened and worried. Three separate shootings ended the lives of Daunte Wright and Adam Toledo and nine others at the FedEx facility in Indianapolis – close to home for me.

Since the pandemic started, we’ve seen a 45% increase in anxiety, 48% increase in depression and 22% increase in stress. Mental health has only been exacerbated, and events like these should be a wakeup call to employers.

Plain and simple: The mental health and well-being of your people needs to be a priority.

So, what can we learn?

Employers are shifting their perception of mental well-being. In fact, in a recent poll we did, 61% of employers said they want more mental and emotional health benefits. However, this week’s shootings make it clear to me that just offering those benefits isn’t enough.

Besides being the compassionate leader that you are, supporting your employees’ mental health helps them thrive as individuals, fend off chronic disease and helps prevent severe cases of mental illness.

First, let’s look at the causes of mental illness.

Causes of Mental Illness

Mental illnesses can be caused by biological, psychological and environmental factors. Common biological factors include infections, brain defects or injury, prenatal damage, substance abuse, exposure to toxins and poor nutrition. Psychological factors that may contribute are psychological trauma suffered as a child, an important early loss (i.e. loss of a parent) and neglect. Environmental stressors could be death or divorce, dysfunctional family life, anxiety, low self-esteem, changing jobs or schools and cultural expectations.

Taking Care of Your Mental Health and Well-being

In the case of the FedEx shooting, there are three viewpoints we must consider: the shooter, the victims’ families and friends and those whose past traumas are triggered by similar events.

Below are some tips for individuals to consider as they are coping:

Attend to self-care

While it may seem counterintuitive to think about taking care of yourself first, you cannot be of service to others if you are unstable. Monitor all of your physical health needs, being sure to eat, sleep, exercise and (if possible) maintain a normal daily routine.

Pay attention to your emotional health

Remember that a wide range of feelings during these difficult times are common. Know that others are also experiencing emotional reactions and may need your time and patience to put their feelings and thoughts in order.

Try to recognize when you or those around you may need extra support

It’s not uncommon for individuals of all ages to experience stress reactions when exposed (even through media) to shootings or mass violence. Changes in eating and sleeping habits, energy level and mood are important signs of distress. Watch for regressed behaviors, such as clinging in children and intense emotional reactions, such as anxiety or a strong need for retribution in adults. When necessary, point individuals to licensed professional counselors who can provide needed support.

Avoid overexposure to media

While it’s important to stay informed, media portrayals of shootings and mass deaths have been shown to cause acute stress and post-traumatic stress symptoms. Limit your exposure and take a break from news sources.

Maintain contact with friends and family

These individuals can provide you with emotional support to help deal with difficult times.

Focus on your strength base

Maintain practices that you have found to provide emotional relief. Remind yourself of people and events which are meaningful and comforting.

Talk to others as needed

It’s important to ask for help if you’re having trouble recovering and everyday tasks seem difficult to manage.

Helping Employees Cope with Loss

While mental health and well-being is an ongoing journey, there are events throughout that journey that can result in a greater need for support. Whether that’s loss, a disruptive change or any kind of trauma. Mental health is a continuum that spans from mental illness to complete mental flourishing. Your place on it can fluctuate, and the solutions to address your state of well-being will differ accordingly.

While it’s common for people to receive 3-7 days of bereavement leave, it’s important to note that grief can last longer. Supporting your employees just after a trauma or loss is helpful, but it’s important to make sure there’s ongoing support in place. Here are a few ways you can support:

  • Encourage use of your employee assistance program (EAP)
  • Train managers on how to support team members who are grieving
  • Allow flexibility in workload and breaks when grief hits unexpectedly
  • Help your employees know what to say and not say to a grieving team member

Mental Health and Well-Being Strategy

An effective mental health and well-being strategy incorporates a variety of solutions to meet employees where they are on the mental health continuum. To start or continue momentum on your current strategy, make sure you’re considering these steps:

  1. Leverage data to understand the needs of your people
  2. Get clear on your challenges
  3. Identify the details of your strategy
  4. Create organizational support
  5. Educate and engage your employees

When it comes to solutions, here’s how I see employers supporting their people today and taking their mental health and well-being initiatives to the next level.

  • Enhanced tech-enabled EAP
  • Digital health solutions, including mindfulness apps, virtual counseling and more
  • Workplace policies (e.g., PTO, flexible work schedule, communication guidelines)
  • Educational workshops
  • Mental health first aid training

We’ve been living with the COVID-19 pandemic for just over a year. But, the violence and related mental health issues are a pandemic that have gone unaddressed for far too long. We must get comfortable being uncomfortable talking about mental health. For the love of ourselves, our love ones, our colleagues and our community.

Written by Cameron Troxell, Vice President of Benefits Strategy. Feel free to drop him a note or reach out on LinkedIn.