If you are someone you know is struggling, help is available at the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling 988.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Coming out of the pandemic, employers are offering more mental health resources to workers, experts say.

Changes can impact someone’s mental health and the pandemic brought many at once.

“For many folks, what we found during the pandemic is the amount of change that came about turned into a place where now we’re very concerned about mental health,” Christy Buck, the executive director of the be nice. Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan, said.

She said things that affect people’s thoughts, actions and feelings and could turn into a mental health disorder. Risk factors include stressful life events, employment changes, marital status or family dynamic changes, moving or workplace changes.

Buck said coming out of the pandemic, people should have a “heightened awareness” about changes in the people around them. There has been a rise in deaths by suicide, she said, compared to 2019 when the rate of suicide dipped.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention said that in 2021, there was a 4% increase in suicides in the United States compared to 2020. The rate had decreased in 2019 and 2020.

“Suddenly we are faced with something that potentially we knew would have a huge effect on people’s mental health,” Buck said. “Now we’ve seen an uprise again, so we’re working harder than ever to get information out to employees, whether it be us being embedded in a company or having them go on and get more information on our website, just by taking the pledge of ‘be nice.'”

She said she has seen businesses and companies offering more mental health resources for employees.

The foundation offers a be nice. program specifically for businesses to provide mental health and suicide prevention education.

“What we have found over the past two years is that a lot of businesses have put into place employee assistance programs and in addition, more robust mental wellness or even wellness programs adding in that mental health piece,” Buck said.

Employers say the programs they already offered are also getting utilized more by employees.

“I think people are talking about (mental health) more, accessing services more. I love it because employers have been offering employee assistance programs for decades,” said Andy Johnston, senior vice president of advocacy and strategic engagement for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. “…Now we’re seeing an uptick in utilization.”

Mike Horrigan, the vice president of HR for corporate at Amway, said the company has seen an increase in need for mental health programs.

“We have added additional programs, we have added additional benefits to support mental health,” he said. “I think it’s a result of just the stress of the change was a lot for people to go through, and we want to help them as much as we can.”

As programs become part of a company’s culture, Buck said businesses should look for people who can be ‘champions’ of mental health. They should encourage people in their company to have compassion for others who may be struggling.

“We want to bridge that gap to have that understanding throughout the entire company,” she said.

Employers and fellow employees should be aware of the warning signs that someone may be struggling. Buck said a noticeable change over the span of two weeks or more in things like a person’s desire to go to work, their engagement in relationships and their daily activities should prompt a conversation.

Someone doesn’t have to be an expert or clinician to have that conversation, Buck said. She advised starting from the beginning: Tell the person about some of the changes you’ve seen that made you concerned and come prepared with resources.

Those resources can include 988, the new national mental health crisis helpline. Knowing that number can save someone’s life, Buck said. The resource can also be 741.741, a text line the foundation has partnered with. You can text ‘nice’ to get help through the foundation, but texting anything will get help.

“We are thrilled with the amount of people that did text ‘nice,'” Buck said. “It means that people are listening. People are paying attention. People are willing to step forth to that first access for help.”

Not only is investing in employees’ mental health good for workers, but it’s also good for business, she said.

“Your investment of great employees is all mental health related,” Buck said. “Somebody wants to be at work, somebody wants to perform the best they can for you, somebody wants to engage in satisfying relationships on my job, ‘I want to have a good attitude’ — that is all related to mental health.”

News 8 is exploring how the pandemic impacted the workforce throughout the week of Labor Day. On Wednesday, read about which employees are still working from home — and why young people prefer the office.