Can we definitively say what happened to Rob Whalen shows a lack of caring in major league baseball about mental health, or a failure of the Mariners? No. I’m not ready to say that.There’s too much we don’t know from this story. What I will say, however, is that his description of what happened in terms of being given information about the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), and then largely just cut of from the rest of his workplace, is something far too many organizations of all types do:
“He was placed on the restricted list for the final two months of the 2017 season. During that time, he requested and received the contact information for a clinical counselor near his hometown in Florida but even still, he felt largely abandoned. “That whole offseason, I never got a text from a coach, never got a call, text from a player,” he said. “Nobody ever reached out to me.””
I do, honestly, believe that the way we handle mental health in the workplace is doing more harm than good, and much of it is created by the very same privacy laws that are meant to protect us. Tell someone in your office, for example, that you need help with a mental health issue, and they will refer you to the EAP. They may even give you a leave of absence to help deal with it, and during that time they will not only officially ghost you, they may even encourage your coworkers to do so as well, which is unfortunate, because the reality is that so many of us spend so much of our time at work, that those are some of our closest relationships. And we are cut off from them, because while you’re on any kind of leave of absence, the official policy is to not reach out to that employee. To not connect with that employee when we know one of the worst things you can do for someone dealing with a mental health issue is to disconnect from them.
How do we change that culture, and get employers to not ghost an employee who is taking the time away from work that they need to deal with a mental health issue? Or even a physical injury? The official policy for that is pretty similar, and I don’t think it helps.