Bellarmine psychology professor calls for leadership on workplace mental health

July 3, 2018


A Bellarmine University psychology professor says CEOs and managers should lead by example in creating workplaces that value health and wellness.

Dr. Courtney Keim, an industrial organizational psychologist and associate professor of psychology at Bellarmine, spoke with the Lane Report about behavioral health issues impacting businesses.

“Your brain is an organ in your body and is not separate from it,” she said. "We know, again from research, what stress does to the body and we know that long-term chronic stress on the body leads to things like heart disease, and it can lead to an increase in mental illness diagnoses."

Keim explained that if workplace stress becomes "daily, chronic and long-term, the cortisol hormone getting released in your body over time builds up in your arteries, which can lead to heart disease and can take a toll on your autoimmune system. Eventually the organization is going to have to pay for that, and its health-care costs are going to increase because its employees are going to be sicker and have to go to the doctor more.”

The Lane Report article notes that "Kentucky ranks 22nd for good overall mental health but only 32nd for good mental health in adults, meaning the prevalence of mental illness increases as residents age."

Keim emphasized the value created in organizations that she has observed, when a top-down model of leadership creates a culture where employees feel supported. “They feel like they can reach out and ask for help, and that’s because they they see their managers, the executives, even the CEO of the organization doing that as well," she said. "Not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. They are themselves taking vacation and totally detaching from the job. (Employers) are leaving at 5 or even at 3 to go pick up their kid or to be a participant in some nonprofit, volunteer organization. So they’re taking advantage and utilizing all of those resources that may be available – not just offering them but using them."

Read the Lane Report's full story, which is the first of a three-part series on this topic.

Keim received her bachelor's degree in psychology from Christian Brothers University and her Ph.D. in experimental psychology – with a concentration in industrial and organizational psychology – from the University of Memphis. Her research focus is in organizational wellness, with an emphasis on stress in the workplace, job insecurity and personality. She is chair of the Psychology in the Workplace Committee for the Kentucky Psychological Foundation.

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