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If there is a silver lining to the pandemic and a host of other crises to follow, it’s that workplaces have become much more open to destigmatizing employees with mental health issues and more targeted at helping them cope with stress.

According to Amy Gilliland, president of a defense contractor, this is not necessarily the case in the intelligence and defense communities. General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT) in Falls Church, Virginia. Many fear that acknowledging a mental health issue could lead to scrutiny that will eventually lead to loss of security clearance.

But Gilliland is trying to change that. Last fall, she launched the What’s Up, Really? a company-wide and industry-wide campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues.

“It is understandable that many of us feel overwhelmed, overwhelmed, or simply not okay. I want you to know that I see you, I hear you, and GDIT supports you.” Gilliland says in a one-minute campaign video on the company’s website.. “You can always ask for help, whether you have security clearance or not.”

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The depth of the emotional burden on her employees—and the fact that many suffered in silence—became painfully clear to her in the summer of 2021, when she received a call from her office while on vacation informing her that an employee had committed suicide. This coincided with two recent suicides in her personal circle.

“The team that worked with this man was stunned. They had no idea what was going on,” she said in an interview. “The experience compromised their own mental health. She said she decided, “We have to do something, people are fighting.”

She tasked her team with addressing the issue on multiple fronts. The program’s website has a video on suicide prevention; contacts with therapists; links to employee help groups and health coaches; and tips on making time for yourself, managing stress, showing gratitude, budgeting during times of crisis, and supporting loved ones in need of encouragement. Thirty percent of the 28,000 employees are veterans, which is why GDIT is reaching out to them as well.

What’s more, the company does a lot more for people who say they’re burnt out and ready to quit. “If you want to retire, that’s your prerogative, but we can do a job rebalance, we can look at your working hours or give you a vacation. We use tools to keep employees on board.”

The response to the program was strong. More than 500 managers attended classes on how to identify signs that their employees need help. The program website was visited by more than 5,000 employees. And participation in the Make Time for Your Emotional Wellbeing series has doubled in just a few months.

Now she is taking her message outside of the company. She has covered the issue on panels with industry groups, during a recent Virginia Tech commencement speech, and in columns on LinkedIn and Instagram. “It’s a problem for us to stay,” she said.

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