Empowering Mental Health and Wellness at KLAS - Cover

Empowering Mental Health and Wellness at KLAS

As someone who has struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, I thought I had everything nailed—my triggers, my coping mechanisms, and the rest of the tool kit that I had carefully added to over years of work and therapy. Then last winter just knocked me down. I usually love winter; I thrive in the cold, but for whatever reason, this winter, my brain decided it was time to live in semipermanent fight or flight mode. My depression was coming on strong, and both my work and my life in general were suffering because of it.  

Over years of reflection and self-discovery, I have realized that I don’t believe in suffering for the sake of suffering. Wallowing can be okay, and it can even be what you need for a while. But I have found that what works for me is to not stand still and wait for my suffering to be over, but rather to walk forward. Even if that means taking one step at a time, no matter how hard that step may be. Even if it means that my step for the day is to just keep breathing. This time around, I found shelter and help in many places, and finding those things lit a fire in me. I wanted to help others at KLAS who struggled too. I just wasn’t quite sure how to do that yet.  

A few months before, a movement had begun at KLAS. Some other employees had started what they called Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). These groups were designed to bring together like-minded minorities to support one another and bring about change in our workplace. Gradually, I realized that I wanted a place to be supported through my mental illness crises and to help others through theirs as well. After seeing the help that the LGBTQ+ ERG provided for so many of its members, I felt like I had a path. It was terrifying, but I was going to start an ERG, and it was going to be about mental health and wellness.  

When I first went to Matt Giacalone about my idea, he was incredibly supportive. “Who do you think should lead the ERG?” I asked him. “I think the answer to that is pretty obvious,” was his reply. Me leading the group had never really occurred to me. I know that sounds strange, but it’s true. With the help and support of Matt and my manager, I realized that if my idea was going to become a reality, I would need to take on that role.  

Our Mission 

My vision for the group was that it would be a place where people could be vulnerable with one another, both in the workplace and outside of it. People with mental health struggles need to know they are not alone, and they often don’t even realize how much they need connection. They need a place at work to share their struggles and know that their jobs are not in jeopardy. They need a safe space where they can share their true selves, no matter what position they hold in the company. There are also KLAS employees who have loved ones with mental health struggles. I hoped the group would be a place where those people could go to better understand what their loved ones were going through and learn how to best to support them.  

Here is our official mission statement:  

The Mental Health and Wellness ERG provides a safe space for all people impacted by mental illness (whether they are affected personally or in other ways) to share their experiences (if they feel comfortable doing so), educate themselves and others, and provide guidance about the resources available to KLAS employees. We strive to be able to better educate all of KLAS’ people on their rights, their blind spots, and their understanding of mental health as a whole. 

A KLAS Culture Shift 

Our first meeting was in November of 2021, and we have had meetings almost every month since then. To reinforce the idea that we aren’t alone in our struggles, we often start our meetings with someone sharing their story. In the beginning, due to the very sensitive and vulnerable nature of the subjects we were going to discuss, I was the first to tell my story. It was incredibly nerve wracking, but it was also freeing.  

Employees who share their stories are met with acceptance and praise for their vulnerability, and that is wonderful to see. I constantly see people from every part of the company share things that I don’t think they have ever voiced to a group like this before. I can’t tell you how much it means to me that we have managed to create a space where people are comfortable enough to be vulnerable like that. Dealing with mental illness can be incredibly hard, especially because of the stigma associated with it. People see mental illness as a weakness rather than a unique way of looking at the world. 

A generous portion of our meeting time focuses on educating KLAS employees on how to navigate mental health struggles in the workplace. Some of the topics we have covered include talking to your manager when you are struggling, recognizing when you may need help, recognizing signs of mental health crises in others, and knowing what to do if someone asks you for help. We also have additional monthly meetings where we discuss various media outlets about mental health—podcasts, YouTube videos, articles, and other sources. Those meetings are typically led by another KLAS employee, Jess Simpson.  

In the past several months, the shift I’ve seen at KLAS has been subtle but present. Members of the ERG have approach me with small victories that they’ve made in their work life that have helped them. I’ve heard about an uptick in the use of the resources we have to help people. I’ve seen employee’s talk to their managers about what they need so that they can succeed and be better employees and people. I’ve also felt an increased general awareness and understanding of mental illness. Managers are more likely to know what mental illness means without its stigma and make accommodations to help their employees. Coworkers are forming friendships where they feel safe talking to each other about their mental health.  

In the future, my hope is that this shift and increased understanding will spread to all people at KLAS. Because without the stigma of mental illness, we can create a culture where people pay attention not only to their physical health but also to their psychological well-being. Ultimately, that will lead to better employee performance and healthier and happier people at KLAS in general.  

KLAS Mental Health Policies 

The HR department at KLAS fully supports people with mental health struggles. When we first started having meetings, 90% of the people in the group didn’t understand what their rights were as a KLAS employee regarding mental health. I suspect that there are still people at KLAS who don’t understand those rights and could really benefit from knowing about them.  

People with mental illnesses are fully protected under FMLA. This means that they are entitled to use their PTO to take time off and can use up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave without the risk of losing their jobs. If you need some time off for mental health reasons, you can talk to your manager. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your manager, you can talk to Matt Giacalone or Thomas Sevy in HR. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to them, you can talk to me.  

Select Health, the company whose insurance KLAS provides for its employees, also offers some amazing benefits. These benefits include five free therapy sessions that match you up with a therapist who specializes in what you’re struggling with. All you have to do is call. After those therapy sessions have been used up, the sessions are billed to Select Health the same way that they would be to a general practitioner. As a patient, you are only billed for the co-pay. 

Trust Yourself 

When I first started exhibiting symptoms of depression and anxiety, I was only a teen. Convincing my parents that something was wrong was a struggle, so I was the one who made the doctors’ appointments and got myself on medication. I had to go to multiple doctors to find one who gave me the care and attention I needed. If there was anything I learned from that experience, it was to trust myself. Trust your gut. You know when something is not right. Trust that you can have a better life if you take that first, vulnerable step forward. 

I’m so proud of the strides that the members of this newly hatched ERG have taken and the vulnerability that they have shown. I’m legitimately honored to be part of something like this, and I’m so excited to see what happens in the future.

Photo Credit: insta_photos, Adobe Stock



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