Free Resource for Employers: ICU Program Unleashes the Power of Caring Co-workers

DMEC@Work

ICU ProgramMental health programs for employees are a growing field because depression, stress, and other workplace mental health issues continue to grow. DMEC is excited to publicize this free, professionally developed program that leverages an underutilized resource: the support of caring co-workers in your organization.

“ICU” is an award-winning mental health program originally developed at DuPont and now offered free by the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health. DMEC and the Partnership have actively collaborated on behavioral health and wellness issues for more than a decade.

The ICU program provides a simple training that prepares employees to recognize signs of distress among co-workers, provide personal support, and encourage use of company mental health resources.

The impetus for the ICU program came from DuPont’s commitment to providing a healthful workplace for employees. In 2008 and 2009, several crises affected knowledge workers globally, including financial crises in the United States and Europe, the Arab Spring uprisings, and the tsunami in Japan. DuPont’s European operations launched an “emotional ergonomics” program to measure and manage the workplace emotional environment. This was rolled out as part of “Mental Health Month” in Europe and became the foundation of a global program for DuPont.

Based on the “emotional ergonomics” concept, DuPont’s U.S. operations launched the ICU program in 2011, releasing an employee training video that became the core of the program. The ICU acronym has three interlocking meanings:

  • Intensive Care Unit — a reminder that mental health can be as significant as physical health
  • “I See You” — awareness of colleagues and the workplace emotional environment
  • Identify, Connect, and Understand — a simple process to support colleagues showing signs of distress

The ICU program equips employees to identify the signs of distress in colleagues, connect with the person experiencing distress, and understand the way forward together.

“The ICU Program helps to reduce stigma associated with the topic of mental health in the workplace and we could all use help with this,” Rhodes said. “This is a quality program, and it is really great that it is available at no cost to employers.”

The ICU program provides a short video explaining how employees can confidently and appropriately connect with distressed peers who may need support. Other program components include an implementation guide, a slide presentation, and templates for a flier and email message. These materials are available for use by employers at no cost.

The program and its components can be viewed online at http://www.workplacementalhealth.org/Spotlights/ICU.aspx. The Partnership worked with DuPont to make the video more universal to allow employers across all sectors and industries and of all sizes to implement the program. They also created customizable companion resources to allow organizations to direct employees to the services available through their own organization. An implementation guide helps employers respond to challenges and opportunities in their own unique operating environment.

“ICU gives companies of all shapes and sizes the ability to take on the topic of mental health in a straightforward, simple manner,” said Clare Miller, Director of the Partnership.

The program is designed to be used in tandem with an organization’s existing mental health and wellness programs; it does not replace them. “ICU offers a platform that reminds employees about benefits they already have but often go unused, such as their employee assistance program (EAP) or other mental health and wellness programs,” said Mary Claire Kraft, Program Manager for the Partnership.

DuPont’s ICU development and rollout in 2012 was led by Paul Heck, the former Global Manager of Employee Assistance and Work/Life Services at DuPont and long-time member of the Partnership’s Advisory Council. In late 2012, Heck noted that EAP utilization in DuPont’s U.S. operations increased 15% to 20% that year. Heck is the first to acknowledge that many factors can affect EAP utilization, but this significant increase did occur in parallel with the ICU rollout.

Humanity 101

At DuPont, the ICU program was presented at periodic employee trainings related to two of DuPont’s core values: safety/health and respect for people. It has been presented to all 70,000 employees globally to support emotionally safe workplaces.

After the U.S. rollout in 2012, Heck said, “The anecdotal information we hear from colleagues is that the perception of the message is so positive. We’re telling them, ‘We want you to care, to be human.’ It’s a warm message to open a meeting with.” He added, “Most people come to work not thinking about work as a place for this kind of emotional support.”

The ICU program increases mental health awareness — the “I See You” aspect — around noticing signs of distress in co-workers. “There is worry about getting too personal and overstepping boundaries. But ICU gives permission for you to be human,” said Clare Miller, Director of the Partnership.

“In today’s world of increasing levels of stress and demands on workers, creating a culture of support is all the more crucial,” notes Heck. “The ICU program gives permission for a sense of normalcy around emotional distress.”

This approach revolves around the kind of caring that friends typically give to friends, without the use of professional mental health expertise. To help a co-worker showing signs of distress, a person’s response might be as simple as a conversation in a quiet place. When signs of distress are more significant, ICU trains employees to encourage the distressed co-worker to use the company’s EAP, medical services, or other resources.

Reducing Mental Health Stigma

“Talking about emotional distress is a smart way to approach mental health,” said Kraft of the Partnership. “It makes the topic accessible by not requiring the clinical know-how of mental health diagnoses; rather it focuses on encouraging employees to lend an ear when they see a colleague in distress and if appropriate, try to help by knowing what resources are available for additional support.” The ICU program promotes a simple process that the great majority of employees can use to support co-workers showing signs of distress. Perhaps because of this simplicity, it may also reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues.

Mental health advocates think so, too. In 2012, Paul Heck received the Seeds of Hope Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness/New York City Metro. “Paul Heck and DuPont are at the forefront of building workplace mental health awareness. Paul’s work ensures that mental and physical health are treated with the same importance and that the stigma surrounding mental illness is reduced,” said Wendy Brennan, Executive Director of NAMI/NYC Metro.

According to DMEC’s 2014 Behavioral Risk Survey, mental health stigma stubbornly persists in many workplaces. The survey white paper concluded, “The need for strategies to combat the perceived stigma associated with behavioral health is more pronounced in 2014 than in recent years, particularly as the workplace becomes more stressful and employers do more to manage productivity.”

The Partnership for Workplace Mental Health emphasizes the potential of the ICU program to reduce mental health stigma. “Research suggests that stigma surrounding mental health is prominent in the workplace, more so than in other aspects of daily life. Employers are in a unique position to change the conversation and create positive change starting at work,” said Miller.

Another Partnership program, Right Direction, encourages employees to seek help for symptoms of depression. Like ICU, Right Direction is designed to reduce mental health stigma. It encourages employees to self-refer to EAP and other resources, based on personal symptoms of depression that may or may not be visible to co-workers.

Like the ICU program, the Partnership provides Right Direction to employers at no cost, and the program template supports customized implementations. Visit http://www.workplacementalhealth.org for more information (the Right Direction link is in the homepage right column).

Implementing ICU

Currently, several large employers are developing ICU implementations, including a DMEC member company that is a major U.S. regional retailer. An active DMEC member at this company said their organization plans to introduce the ICU program at a pilot site in May.

Conclusion

Since its inception, DMEC has promoted early intervention. The ICU program puts the power of early intervention in the hands of caring co-workers. ICU reminds us that simple acts of friendship, combined with common-sense referral to the company EAP and other resources, can play a key role in maintaining a resilient workplace. To learn more about this free resource and how it could help your company provide a more healthful workplace, visit http://www.workplacementalhealth.org/Spotlights/ICU.aspx.