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Over 100 colleagues at Zurich North America have completed the certification, some in honor of a loved one who has experienced mental health challenges.

When Nicole Golliday brought up the possibility of offering Mental Health First Aid training to Zurich North America employees last year, she  wasn’t sure how many colleagues would choose to make the time investment. It isn’t a simple one-hour webinar. Earning the certification requires six hours in an interactive virtual training course and two hours of pre-work.

To her surprise, in the months since, over 100 colleagues have signed up and completed the certification to become Mental Health First Aid champions. “Interest definitely exceeded my expectations,” said Golliday, who works in Human Resources Employee Relations and is Chair of Zurich North America’s AbilitieZ employee resource group, which works to raise awareness around people with disabilities and foster inclusion.

The positive response to the training reflects a growing recognition of just how common mental health challenges are, with an impact that is felt in the workplace. Studies tell part of the story. It is estimated that:

Personal experience shows how devastating mental health challenges can be. Golliday lost her brother to suicide when he was 49. Such experiences are not rare. One in four families globally has at least one member with a mental illness, according to the World Health Organization.

The pandemic created or heightened mental health challenges for many, and the shutdown extended longer than anybody anticipated, said Kristin Bajorat, Director of Wellbeing at Zurich North America, who talked about the impact in a recent Future of Risk podcast.

“There were much broader emotional and social tolls as a result, including isolation, additional stress if you had kids at home and you were trying to manage schooling and work, or had an elderly parent who you could no longer see or needed help,” Bajorat said. “And then there were the financial implications of furloughs, job losses, etc. And if it didn't happen to you, it could have happened to a family member who you maybe were stepping in to support financially.”

One silver lining from the pandemic

While one recent study found that less than 10% of employees feel their workplace is free of stigmas about mental health, Bajorat says one silver lining from the pandemic is that it has helped ease that stigma. During Mental Health Awareness Month in May, Zurich hosted a panel discussion with a psychiatrist and a few employees who shared their experiences with mental health challenges.

“We, as an insurance company, but also companies as a whole, were really conservative about talking about mental health in the past,” Bajorat said. “Having these conversations is a way to open things up and understand that if you are struggling or going through something, you're not going through it alone.”

Mental Health First Aid training teaches how to recognize and approach a colleague, family member, friend or other individual who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use challenge or crisis. Those who are certified do not attempt to diagnose, treat or counsel individuals; they listen nonjudgmentally and then connect the individual with appropriate resources to help.

Among the supports available to Zurich employees and dependents are six free counseling sessions per issue per year through Zurich’s Employee Assistance Program. Employees don’t have to be enrolled in a Zurich-sponsored medical plan to use this benefit.

“I’ve used my training to help several employees
who were experiencing mild to very severe issues.”

—Nicole Golliday

Golliday says she has applied what she learned as a Mental Health First Aid champion over the past year.

“I’ve used my training to help several employees who were experiencing mild to very severe issues,” Golliday shared in an article for Zurich Insurance Group’s magazine. “I don’t diagnose or tell people what to do. I just listen, offer support, and help employees find a resource or solution for their situation.”

Completion of the course earns the participant a three-year certification as a Mental Health First Aid Champion. Champions at Zurich are added to a Mental Health First Aid Champion Directory on the company’s intranet site, accessible to all employees who can reach out if they need help.

Golliday says the goals of offering the training include increasing awareness around mental health challenges, helping to reduce the stigma associated with getting help, and increasing the likelihood that an individual struggling with a mental health challenge will seek out support.

AbilitieZ Executive sponsor Tracy Lampert, who is Head of Employee Experience and Culture at Zurich North America, saw the value in offering the Mental Health First Aid training.

“The pandemic showed how important it is for us to elevate mental health awareness,” Lampert said. “We saw that our colleagues and workplace relationships can play a very important role in supporting our people’s wellbeing and helping people get help when needed.”