Prioritizing mental health in the workplace is vital—how Children’s uplifts employees


mental health services at Children's
As Children’s of Alabama’s Emotional Wellness Director, Lou Lacey provides support to employees. Photo via Children’s of Alabama

Discussing feelings of on-the-job stress and anxiety is integral to facilitating a positive work-life culture. Since May is Mental Health Month, we tapped two experts from Children’s of Alabama to share why prioritizing your mental health is necessary for a workplace. Sound relevant? Let’s learn more about the services.

Two programs, one goal

Emotional Wellness Director Lou Lacey and Director of Social Services Beth Rocker don’t work together, but they share a similar goal. Each program they respectively run seeks to provide a support service for employees.

These services are particularly important for those who pour so much compassion into their jobs. Healthcare workers aren’t always able to share their grief with a loved one due to HIPAA violations or not wanting to burden them with trauma.

“Sometimes it is helpful to talk to somebody who is not personally involved in our lives. It’s hard for our loved ones to see us in emotional pain, and they want to offer suggestions or they want to try to fix it for us. A lot of times we just want somebody to listen.”

Lou Lacey, Emotional Wellness Director, Children’s of Alabama

Emotional Wellness

Since 1999, Lou has worked at Children’s, and for the past 11 years, she’s been in charge of the Emotional Wellness program.

When the program started nearly a decade ago, its mission was to provide resources for employees who were facing burnout and distress. However, employees also come to Lou with personal problems that extend past the hospital’s walls.

“More often, I’m talking to folks about just their lives—whether it be a horrible loss that they’ve suffered in their personal life, they’re grieving, they’ve got issues related to relationships or children, depression and anxiety or any number of things.”

Lou Lacey, Director, Emotional Wellness, Children’s of Alabama

Lou’s role can function as a gatekeeper for other ways to receive help, too. She directs employees toward the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), for example, if they’re looking for further counseling, medication and other forms of support.

Peer Encouragement During Stress

two men talking
All employees, supervisors and colleagues are encouraged to contact the PEDS team after any traumatic patient event. Photo via Unsplash

Beth recently helped instate the Peer Encouragement During Stress program, or PEDS. It launched last spring as the pandemic ramped up to an extreme height.

“One of our main goals is simply to raise awareness throughout the hospital of how common it is to experience emotional and even physical distress as a result of working in healthcare. 

We have a core team of Peer Responders, along with our Program’s Steering Committee members, all of whom have been instrumental in raising this awareness and facilitating dialogue among employees and leadership about the stressors we all experience and the opportunities to support employees through these stressors.”

Beth Rocker, Director, Department of Social Services, Children’s of Alabama

PEDS helps promote resilience and reduce distress among employees. Especially after 2020, it’s not tough to imagine that working in healthcare comes with many emotional challenges.

“Healthcare workers are faced with stressful and difficult work situations on a regular basis, even when we’re not experiencing a global pandemic. Our reactions to stress can have profound consequences – for ourselves, our patients and our organization. 

Providing peer support to healthcare workers following distressing events not only promotes our wellbeing but also facilitates a safe, healthy environment for everyone.”

Beth Rocker, Director, Department of Social Services, Children’s of Alabama

The significance of having on-site guidance + support

mental health
Beth and Lou are appreciative to work at an organization that cares about its employee’s mental health. Photo via Children’s of Alabama

It isn’t easy to make time to prioritize your mental health. So, Children’s works to ensure the services are available when it’s most convenient for employees. These programs are free, confidential and on-site at the hospital.

Sometimes, this looks like assessing several employees as a whole. For example, Lou takes the lead in situations when there’s a department that’s recently faced a lot of difficult cases involving emotional situations like non-accidental trauma.

“We get together as a group and talk about it, and talk about the ways that we as people are affected by secondary trauma. …That affects the folks that work for us.

They’re drawn to work at Children’s because they have a heart for children and they want to make the world a better place for our kids and help them heal. And so when that’s not happening or they see something terrible happen, of course, it’s going to impact them.”

Lou Lacey, Director, Emotional Wellness, Children’s of Alabama

Whether as a nurse or other team member, when you work for Children’s, you’re working for an organization that cares about your mental health—browse open jobs.

Employees respond positively

Since the initiation of these programs, Lou and Beth have seen a positive response at Children’s. For some, it takes a while to come in and for others, it’s an immediate welcoming service.

When a team member decides they’re ready to talk, trained professionals positioned to equip employees with healthy coping and resiliency strategies to promote their well-being are here.

“Employees who have utilized our services have commented on how supported they have felt in being able to just talk freely about how they’ve been impacted by the stressors they’ve experienced.

Ultimately, I am thrilled and thankful that our hospital leadership considers this an organizational priority as one of the ways we can care for our employees and help them thrive in their roles.”

Beth Rocker, Director, Department of Social Services, Children’s of Alabama

Never underestimate the power that a listening ear can have on your mental health

mental health
Seeking advice from a colleague, clergy member or professional can help improve your mental health. Photo via Unsplash

It can be hard to reach out, but you shouldn’t be afraid. Try finding someone you can talk to—a professional, clergy member or friend—who can listen and not judge you for your response.

“It’s a really magical thing in my mind. The way that we’re designed as human beings is that we get an actual chemical reward when we talk to another person in a way that it’s real and authentic about what’s troubling us. It actually reduces cortisol in your system, the stress hormone, and here’s a reason why it feels good to get things off your chest.”

Lou Lacey, Director, Emotional Wellness, Children’s of Alabama

Beth reminds us that it’s not only OK to reach out for support, it’s expected. We all experience stressful situations and we can’t control them. We can control who will help us navigate the challenges.

“The main thing I want our employees, and everyone in our community, to know is that it is OK to reach out for help! If there’s one thing we’ve learned collectively as a community over the past year, it’s that life is unpredictable and that we need one another for support and care.”

Beth Rocker, Director, Department of Social Services, Children’s of Alabama

Are you ready to join a team dedicated to the emotional health and well-being of its employees? Apply for open jobs today.

Learn more about Children’s of Alabama through their website and follow them on InstagramFacebook and Twitter for updates.

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