States of Mind

Jean Block Commentary

States of Mind
Many companies offer mental health resources, including employee assistance programs that providing counseling sessions that are free to employees. (Shutterstock)

The afternoon of May 24, I read the headline, “School shooting in Uvalde, Texas.” “Not again,” I thought and sighed, turning back to my work. 

As I drove to the gym later, I heard more troubling details of the shooting. And while watching the news later, the scope of it all became clear. This was not another shooting — it was a massacre of 19 small children and two teachers. 

This is an Opinion

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I am a strong woman, emotionally and mentally grounded. I intentionally foster calmness, positive experiences and happiness in my life. I am physically active and outdoors in nature regularly. I have a tight-knit circle of people around me with whom love, respect and honest conversation flow. And I surround myself with music, arts and culture. In all, I consider myself deeply balanced.

Despite this, I was mentally and emotionally turned upside down by the Uvalde shooting — the latest in a string of shootings that include random attacks on Black people in Buffalo, New York, following the senseless killings of Black men and women over the years across the country.

As a Native American woman married to a Black man, the deaths of so many people of color brought me to a halt. In the 24 hours after Uvalde, I was on the verge of tears. I started crying when a coworker hugged me before a group meeting the next morning. I also felt fear and anxiety. These shootings occurred in the types of places I routinely visit, and I found myself wondering if a shooter would enter.  

I knew the thoughts, feelings and fear I felt were atypical for me, and it was important that I acknowledge them all. I talked through them at length with my husband. And I started simple daily meditation practices, from one-minute breathing exercises to listening to short meditation pieces.

Why do I share this in a business journal? 

1) As business leaders, we may be emotionally overwhelmed by mass shootings and the increased violence in our world, and we should acknowledge it. Doing so is not a sign of weakness, nor is seeking remedies that may include talking to a therapist, being outdoors in nature, using a meditation app, being physically active, unplugging devices or spending quality time with loved ones.

2) When these terrible events happen, the pain and emotional turmoil we feel are real and affect everyone in the workplace. Research shows that exposure to traumatic events through the media can lead observers to experience anxiety, difficulties in coping, feelings of helplessness and fear. Mental health professionals also recognize that people from Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities may experience these tragedies at greater emotional levels. Clinical psychologists have noted when victims of mass shootings are members of a racial and/or ethnic community, it is common for members of those communities to experience a heightened sense of danger in daily life.

3) It is important for business leaders to understand these effects and recognize that colleagues on their leadership teams and employees within their organization may feel overwhelmed. Many companies offer mental health resources. If yours does not, I encourage you to consider it. I work at a municipal utility, and we offer several, including day, in-patient and outpatient services through our health insurer and two employee assistance programs, one of which gives employees five free counseling sessions.

4) Business leaders should encourage their human resources departments to share mental health resources, which are often out of sight, out of mind. I oversee my company’s HR department, and I recently asked it to compile a list of resources and make them accessible under a new “Mental Health” tab on our intranet. This was a simple action, and one I hope helps employees.

We live in turbulent times. We owe it to ourselves and our co-workers — many of whom are like a second family to us — to be mindful of these states of mind and to support one another in compassionate and meaningful ways.

Jean Block is the chief legal officer at the Little Rock Water Reclamation Authority.

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