The latest installment of SFBW's Virtual Connect series delved into the added stress the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused employees, and what businesses and health care providers can do to ensure that workers stay healthy—both mentally and physically. From business shutdowns to increased childcare demands along with the challenges of remote work, employees have faced obstacles never seen before, but are employers able to assist their workers to ease the extra burdens the pandemic produced? The "Virtual Connect: Employee Mental Health in a Pandemic" forum, sponsored by Florida Blue, featured a panel of health care experts moderated by Penny Shaffer, the Florida Blue market president for South Florida. The panelists: Samantha Chafin, the senior director for behavioral health strategy and operations at Florida Blue, and Michelle Pargman, an employee assistance program and wellness clinician with New Directions Behavioral Health. COUNTERING STIGMA We're thrilled to have two very professional women with us today to talk about this important subject. We want to talk a little bit about the impact that we've seen on behavioral health on employees and productivity during the pandemic. But I want to take a step back first. Biases still remain in mental health, and I just want to ask both of you if you've seen a shift with the perception and use since the start of the pandemic. Chafin: As Americans, we tend to be influenced by role models, the political figures, the Hollywood figures and athletes. So, it's been interesting to see how in this time of a pandemic, those individuals who oftentimes influence Americans have helped with the issue of the mental health stigma by coming out and speaking loudly about their personal experiences. It has opened the door for conversations that, frankly, haven't happened in the past. So, it's encouraging to see action like that happening. But now it's time to take it more to a local level. And particularly as we talk today, I want to talk more about how you as an employer can help us remove that stigma. By embracing this, like you do many other health conditions, you wouldn't think twice about supporting your employees with diabetes, or other medical conditions, while mental health is the same thing. And so, you need to be thinking that there is no health without mental health. And when you start treating it like that, you will help us bring the stigma down from a [use] perspective. Absolutely, we've seen a significant increase in [use] and that's again to do with the self-identified individuals who now say yes, I have a mental health condition. Prepandemic, it was about 20%. But in August 2020, the CDC reported that they're seeing figures over 40% of Americans say yes, I have a mental health condition. So now we need to help them get the care they need. And while we've seen the increase in care, it still may not be the right care in a more preventative way. So we're looking for an opportunity for us to continue the dialogue on how we can get the right care at the right time to serve those needs. Pargman: According to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than half of all adults say that they've been more open with others about their mental health since the pandemic began. So, I agree with Samantha, there is a shift, there is an openness. I often talk about same storm, different boat, meaning, in the beginning of the pandemic, we're all in the same boat. And I think more accurately, I have since heard people describe it, as we're all in the same storm, just in different boats. And I think that resonates with me because we all are in different situations. And I think as a result, I have seen a shift in seeing counseling and mental health support for more daily struggles, regardless if there's a family history of mental illness or patterns of mental health conditions. That kind of support has been a normalizing factor that we don't have to wait for there to be a mental health crisis for us to seek it. And I will say I've seen people reach out, often for the first time, which gives me hope, because before the pandemic, the average time between the onset of mental health symptoms and diagnosis and treatment of a mental health condition was 11 years, which is startling. If we have pain in our bodies, we often don't wait around long before we seek help. So, my curiosity and my hopefulness is that one of the long-term positive impacts of COVID is a reduction in that time, from onset to treatment; that's the hope.

[caption id="attachment_91320" align="alignleft" width="300"] Photo Credit Courtesy of Denison Yachting[/caption] One of South Florida’s premier yacht broker companies was recently acquired by OneWater Marine Inc. (NASDAQ: ONEW) with the purchase of Denison Yachting. The acquisition of Denison Yachting will help increase the OneWater portfolio featuring superyacht sales, yacht...

Known for his work with celebrities but also for his immersive commercial work, Miami-based interior designer Wade Allyn Hallock launched his own studio in 2000. He moves easily between styles and spaces, from midcentury-inflected homes in South Florida to restaurants and spas. Global travel invigorates...