If there’s one message Yinka Lawal could broadcast to her teammates, that would be it. When Lawal, an analyst at Walgreens, had a personal mental health crisis, she took advantage of free counseling sessions offered through the company’s employee assistance program. Not only did the counseling sessions help jumpstart her healing process, but they inspired her to be an advocate for others seeking mental health support. Shortly after beginning counseling, she joined the Women of WBA business resource group and pursued training outside the company to become a certified Mental Health Ally with PsychHub, a mental health educational resource platform that partners with researchers at universities such as Columbia, UCLA and UPenn.“I wanted a certification to prove I was here to help,” says Lawal. “So I took the opportunity with PsychHub. I had actually studied health and human services and minored in psychology in undergrad. I have always had a passion for mental health and understanding peoples’ differences.”
While getting her certification, COVID-19 broke out, upending the normalcy of daily life. The news was frightening, and everyone was forced to adapt to new concepts like social distancing and isolation. The confusion and separation were not without their consequences. In a survey conducted by the CDC last year, it was determined that symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders nearly doubled in a year, triggered by the emotional challenges posed by physical distancing and stay-at-home orders.
Lawal foresaw that team members would need tools to navigate this crisis. Knowing that Walgreens had an existing partnership with Mental Health America, she reached out their program leaders to coordinate a virtual event for Walgreens Boots Alliance team members in July 2020. Speakers took time to explain the mental health resources available to team members through the employee assistance program, and announced that the first group of Walgreens pharmacists had recently completed training in Mental Health First Aid. More than 300 team members tuned in.
“That was Walgreens’ first ever mental health event,” she says. “And it was the best event we had last year. We had so many people thanking us for hosting it and sharing information. And now over the past year, a lot of people have reached out to say how glad they are that I brought this to the forefront. A team member contacted me to say they have anxiety, and they didn’t want to talk about it before because of the stigma, and now they feel that they’re able to do so.”
Feeding off this momentum, Lawal contacted leaders of other employee groups with the idea of making the event an annual one. When discussions were underway, they realized that one hour-long event can’t encompass the many facets of mental health. What made more sense, and would benefit the most people, would be to host a series of events throughout Mental Health Awareness Month in May 2021:
- Mental Health America led a discussion on depression and anxiety, which covered the impact these disabilities have on individuals and their families, and gave examples on how to talk to employees and how to open up to your boss about mental health situations.
- Dr. Kevin Ban, Walgreens’ chief medical officer, led a talk that highlighted current vaccine developments, life after COVID and mental health, during which he explained that it’s OK to be hesitant or nervous about life after COVID, and educated team members on how to move forward.
- Mental Health America led a mindfulness and wellness meditation, followed by a discussion on ideas to enhance the wellness of team members and their families.
- The disAbility and Environmental Sustainability business resource groups hosted a virtual, outdoor wellness walk, where team members could enjoy the environment and enhance their mental wellness while connecting with others.
“Knowing that a company is taking care of you and making sure you're healthy and doing well makes you want to do well in your everyday work,” says Lawal. “Motivating us and keeping us on track is one thing, but keeping us healthy is so important for a company to do. Walgreens does that very well. We have several business resource groups that span every unique community, and that shows that we're trying to include everyone. We are looking out for you.”