Walmart Launches Major Employee Mental Health Support Initiative

Walmart is launching a major mental health education and support effort for its employees as the US grapples with a behavioral health crisis.

The retail giant, which has nearly 1.6 million workers in the US alone, Monday announced a new “Workplace Mental Health course” that will focus on teaching Walmart leaders and managers how to deal with someone struggling with behavioral health issues. The course will be facilitated by clinicians from the company Lyra Health, which is known for educating on mental health risks in the workplace.

Walmart wants to “appropriately and empathetically engage with someone who may be struggling with a mental health challenge,” Walmart’s Chief People Officer, Donna Morris said in a memo to company leaders including campus associates at the director level and above across the retailer’s markets and regions .

“Some of our leaders have already had an opportunity to participate in a sample course earlier this year, and we’re excited to begin offering these one-hour sessions to a wider audience — facility, field, and campus office,” Morris said. “This new Workplace Mental Health course is the next step in our ongoing journey to support the emotional well-being of our associates.”

The new course builds on mental health training and support Walmart already has for its employees such as around-the-clock access to counseling and no-cost virtual care with licensed psychiatrists, therapists and psychologists.

The effort also comes as workplace violence is on the rise.

Walmart last year found the company name in headlines regarding an employee mental health issue that turned deadly in a workplace shooting. Later, a Virginia woman who survived the shooting at a Walmart store that killed six workers sued the retailer, claiming she submitted a formal complaint about the gunman and his danger to fellow employees. Yet Walmart kept him employed, the suit says. The shooter died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, the police have said.

Walmart says its initiative isn’t tied to a specific issue, citing statistics the company says show more than 20% of US adults struggle with their mental health.

Meanwhile, Lyra Health called Walmart’s effort “groundbreaking.”

“Walmart’s leaders are uniquely positioned to spot signs of distress and this course will help them learn how to identify signs that could indicate someone is in need for support during a time when mental distress is highly prevalent,” Lyra Health’s senior director of workforce transformation, Dr. Joe Grasso, said. “Importantly, the course also provides managers with step-by-step guidance on how to have a normalizing and empathetic conversation, with the ultimate goal of referring to appropriate resources. In deploying this course, Walmart is taking the lead on how to foster a mentally healthy work culture, destigmatize mental health issues, and ensure people get access to the care they need when they need it.”

“That’s why supporting the health and well-being of our associates is a top priority for us, and these new offerings are just part of the full suite of resources we provide for our associates to support their physical, mental and financial well-being ,” a Walmart spokesman said. “We want our associates and their families to have access to mental health resources to help them manage stressors, build resilience, and get care if and when they need it. These new mental health benefits are the next step in our ongoing journey to focus on the emotional well-being of our associates.”