A Talk with Sheila Hamilton, CEO of Beyond Well Solutions
By Kevin Pereau
Sheila Hamilton is the CEO of Beyond Well Solutions. Her company provides a mental health solution for employers who want to engage employees in better behavioral health and wellness. Sheila is a five-time Emmy-winning mental health journalist, and the author of All the Things We Never Knew, Chasing the Chaos of Mental Illness. Among the many awards she has won are the Ron Schmidt Community Service Award and the Judy Cushing Life award for her advocacy for people with mental illness. She hosts the podcast Beyond Well with Sheila Hamilton.
As we have already noted, many healthcare innovators have chosen to work in the field because of a personal experience – an epiphany – that changed their lives. That was also the case with Sheila.
But her experiences were dramatically different from those of the other experts I interviewed for this book. “I started the company because of my own experience in the mental health arena, which was with my husband, who was a very successful businessman,” Sheila says. “At the age of 43, he started having very strange behaviors and was not motivated to run his company. He wasn’t billing his clients and he was really starting to struggle.
“When I suggested that he go see a therapist, he was stigmatized by it. He’d grown up in a family that was just not willing to talk about mental health as something that was normal or something that we all struggle with. He was unwilling to accept the idea that we can all learn tools to deal with our anxiety. Because he didn’t see a psychiatrist, he ended up on the wrong medication and was misdiagnosed. He just went to a friend who was a physician and he spiraled downward. The day after he was released from care, he died by suicide.
“I had been a reporter for almost 25 years and felt like I missed the biggest story of my life, which was how to identify people in mental health crises and what we can all do to help. It was then that I switched my journalism career for one that would allow me to develop content and programming that could help people realize we’re all on a spectrum of mental health and we all need to have the tools and the resilience to be able to handle things that come up in our lives. We’re all in need of mental health training. So that was the genesis for it.”
Sheila is right. Mental health issues don’t only affect people of specific demographics, they can affect anyone. Many of us encounter these problems and simply try to muscle through them. And Sheila points out that mental health challenges don’t only affect people who are failing in their businesses and their careers. Highly successful people can experience these challenges. “It’s important for people to understand that some of the worst mental health crises in business affect people that are having their best life,” she says. “These are people who are there. They have more customers than they’ve ever had before. They might be entrepreneurs who are hitting big. But they’re running out of the mental capacity to juggle everything that comes at them. They’re not sleeping or eating well. They don’t have someone that they can rely on to talk about their fears and their apprehension about the good stuff that’s going on. And those people can go into a mental health crisis. We have to stop believing that mental health crises only afflict those who are genetically inclined toward depression. “How do we cope with these problems? We soldier on. Some of us are more effective at it than others. That is a big reason why we created our company to help solve this issue.”
How Mental Health Suffered During the Pandemic
Is it a fair call to say that mental health has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic?
I asked Sheila and as you would expect, she was able to point me to relevant recent research. She cited a recent Kaiser Permanente Family Foundation report that states that as the pandemic is drawing to a close, two-thirds of Americans reported high levels of anxiety and stress. In addition, 7 in 10 employees state that the current work environment is “the most stressful time in their career.”
Those figures represent phenomenal increases from the last time that Kaiser reported on employees’ mental health, before the pandemic. (For more information, view Kaiser’s conclusions at business.kaiserpermanente.org.) She also notes that younger workers have suffered a decline in mental health. Roughly four out of 10 workers report not being able to cope daily with the demands of remote work and cited increased levels of anxiety and depression. “It was a crisis,” Sheila states. “And I think if you didn’t have your existential crisis about what it meant to have a worldwide pandemic, you probably weren’t paying attention.”
To address those problems among the working population, Beyond Well created employer programs that connected employees with psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and others. And the programs created included additional services for employees who were dealing with the specific challenges of schooling children at home, and also with employees who were experiencing trauma during the time of the protests following the murder of George Floyd. Interestingly enough, Sheila notes that alongside their employees, success-oriented C-suite-level executives were among the people who were hit hard. Many of them were asking deeper questions like, “What am I doing with my life” and, “What is my real purpose?”
But Sheila notes that positive change has resulted from the pandemic too. Companies have become more open to discussing and addressing employees’ anxieties and worry daily. Sheila says, “that elephant has been in the room for a long time. The pandemic brought things to the point where we cannot ignore him.”
Creating a Revolution in Company Wellness and Wellbeing
How does Beyond Well Solutions work with companies to offer employees – from the top down – access to the wellness programs Sheila and her team have developed? They have worked with the HR departments at large and small companies to make sure that employees know what kind of help is available. But Sheila believes that merely being available is not enough. For mental health to become part of what a company does – and what its culture is – Sheila has noted that orientation toward mental wellness needs to be a top-down initiative. In some companies, employees through the ranks don’t fully trust that company leaders and top executives genuinely believe in mental health initiatives. And when that trust is lacking, employees may hesitate to take part in the programs. They can also be afraid that their privacy is being violated if they take part. Some employees are even afraid that they will lose their jobs if they admit to depression or anxiety.
What is the solution? One is for company leaders to talk about their worries and anxieties, not conceal them. And something else, according to Sheila. “There has to be an organic and very, very vulnerable and open conversation with radical empathy for what people are going through while they try to navigate this period.”
How Employees Encounter and Experience Beyond Wellness Programs
Let’s say you are an employee who needs counseling – perhaps you are experiencing anxiety or stress. How will you learn about the Beyond Wellness programs your company makes available, and what will the services you access be like?
As Sheila noted above, people are more willing to seek out and take part if company leaders are open and accepting of the fact that employees might need assistance. She also notes that company communications can play a critical role. Companies can distribute weekly updates and resource materials on pertinent topics like the challenges of raising school-age children during the post-pandemic period. Some of the content can be in the form of videos that address particular concerns that employees could be dealing with. “Employees can discover a video or lesson on a topic that addresses their needs, click on it, and watch what they need,” Sheila says. “Plus, the resources can be siloed so that if an employee has a child who is experiencing anxiety, that employee can jump there and find advice.
“What we like about this approach is that it doesn’t require people to sit in front of a screen and watch content that doesn’t pertain to what they need. Sitting in front of videos makes people fatigued, and being tethered to a laptop can cause even more stress. But with the right formatting and presentation of helpful material, people can become more of what Sheila calls, “the CEOs of their mental health.” The result can be employees who are happier, more productive, and better able to deal with the challenges of what it is like to work today. This approach will save companies money too.
“We never want employees to get to the point where they check into the E.R. to deal with an issue that pertains to mental health,” Sheila says, “We want companies to become involved much earlier so that never happens – and so that employees are happier and better adjusted to working for companies that care about their wellbeing.” Beyond Wellness is undertaking initiatives that can cultivate healthier employees, happier companies, and overall, a happier workforce in our country as the pandemic fades into memory.
About Sheila Hamilton
- Five-time Emmy Award-winning journalist
- Author of “All the Things We Never Knew.”
- 19-year broadcaster
- Morning Show host #1 Radio Station in Portland for 10 years
- Associated Press awards in the category of writing, investigative journalism, documentary, and public affairs programming.
- Host of NAMI Wellness Video Web Series – “Chasing Chaos”
- New York “Make A Difference” Webinar – UK Based
- “Well Being at Work” U.S. summit – 3/16/21
- Hosted and emceed various mental health conferences
- A moderator for dozens of mental health panels.
- Recipient of the Judy Cushing Life Award in 2018
- Ron Schmidt Community Hero award in 2019.
- Active APB speaker on mental illness
- Host “Beyond Well with Sheila Hamilton” with over 130 episodes
- Spotify named it the fast-rising mental health podcast in April 2020
- Board Member – Foundation for Excellence in Mental Health Care
- Leads Beyond Well’s team of Doctors, Psychologists, and Therapists to provide current and evidence-based content focused on employee mental health.
You are invited to read the full interview with Sheila in Kevin’s book, It Takes a Village – Click here to get it on Amazon.