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Bringing Mental Health Awareness to DuPont Pioneer

The following is an excerpt from DuPont Pioneer’s intranet communications. NAMI member Nina Richtman works for DuPont Pioneer and is a strong advocate for mental health awareness in the workplace.

Mental Health is all over the news these days and for good reason: one in five adults experiences a mental health condition each year. Mental health conditions are the leading cause of disability in the United States. Untreated mental health conditions cost the U.S. economy $200 billion in lost earnings each year through decreased work performance and productivity (NAMI Stigma Free workplace).

“From the company perspective, we must consider that this is an across-the-board, community health crisis, which is as much an issue for employees as for customers.” Nina Richtman, co-chair of Pioneer Employees with Disabilities and Allies Network (PDAN). The rate of suicide amongst farmers is 2x the rate of veterans and higher than any other occupation. Factors contributing to this include farm economics, work load requiring work 7 days per week, unpredictability of climate change and rural locations with limited options for mental health supports and services (Debbie Weingarten, The Guardian). Research has found that about 90% of individuals who die by suicide experience mental illness (NAMI).

PDAN, an employee resource group with around 120 members, set a big goal for 2017: to provide increased awareness and lessen stigma on the topic of mental health through education and outreach. PDAN began by partnering with leaders like Brad Lance (retired VP of Integrated Operations), Michael Patrick (retired HR lead) and Neal Gutterson (VP of Research and Development). “Mental health is not as visible in the work place, it’s harder to deal with and people are still uncomfortable talking about it. The more of us who step up and talk about it, and make commitments inside our workplaces, the better off we all will be,” said Gutterson.

In response, PDAN set up a two-part Mental Health Series. Part 1 took place in April 2017 and focused on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and included a panel discussion. The panel shared their personal stories of childhood abuse and fighting for our country and professional expertise to educate employees on triggers, flashbacks, detection, treatment, and resources. This event was implemented in collaboration with the Pioneer Veterans Network. Part 2 of the series was a performance of This Is My Brave® in November 2017. This Is My Brave® is an international movement and non-profit created to share stories of mental illness told through creative expression. Those that attended the event had a chance to experience real people, from the Des Moines community, sharing their stories.

In addition to the Mental Health Series, PDAN worked with leaders to bring an all employee mental health program to the company. In late 2017, Research and Development began the roll out of a one-year program for mental health awareness using the Not Myself Today® program from Canadian non-profit organization, Partners for Mental Health. In addition to R&D, Integrated Operations will be participating in the program in 2018. “As an employer we understand that from a mental health perspective there is no difference, your brain is a physical thing. The brain can get sick too just like the rest of our physical bodies. To understand that and support each other is absolutely critical” said Gutterson.

In September 2017, DuPont Pioneer was a sponsor of the annual National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Walk. This event had over 800 walkers including PDAN members, who raised over $1,000 for NAMI. PDAN had great representation and co-chair Nina Richtman was invited to speak in the opening program.

In December, PDAN closed out the 2017 year focused on mental health, with a final event, the Kindness Rock Project. PDAN members and friends came together for this hands-on, action project with a focus on suicide prevention. People painted rocks then added positive messages and the suicide hotline 1-800 number and crisis text line number.  Rocks will soon be distributed around campuses in break rooms, as well in the larger community. One message, at just the right moment, could change someone’s day, outlook, or maybe even their life.

The part about mental health that doesn’t always make the news, is that most symptoms related to mental health conditions improve with the proper support. “By tackling the stigma and increasing the awareness around mental illness, Pioneer has a great deal to gain both for our employees and our customers. We hope to build off what we started in 2017 and keep the momentum going,” said Richtman.

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