Hostess pledges to be StigmaFree in shining a light on employee mental health

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Eight in 10 workers say embarrassment prevent them from seeking treatment for mental health problems. Pic: GettyImages/DKosig
Eight in 10 workers say embarrassment prevent them from seeking treatment for mental health problems. Pic: GettyImages/DKosig

Related tags Hostess brands COVID-19 Mental health National Alliance on Mental Illness workplace long COVID

The Ding Dong, Twinkies and Donettes maker has partnered with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to turn the spotlight on mental health within its organisation, embracing NAMI’s StigmaFree approach.

NAMI is America’s largest grassroots mental health body, offering educational programmes, advocates for individuals and families affected by mental illness, and a toll-free helpline.

It also created the StigmaFree Company initiative, challenging companies across America to step up and do their part in the fight against the ‘humiliation’ often associated with mental health.

According to NAMI, one in five adults experiences a mental health condition each year, meaning – depending on the size of the company – dozens of staff members want to have a  serious conversation about workplace mental health, however, eight in 10 workers say embarrassment prevent them from seeking treatment.

Untreated mental health conditions will impact the company – both financially and in terms of staff morale – and the economy, costing around $200bn in lost earnings each year.

But it is easy to overcome with the help of NAMI, a move taken by Hostess to review and update its company mental health resources and explore ways to connect employees to these resources. Hostess also is providing all employees with guidelines on how to discuss mental health in the workplace without inciting shame.

“Our mission is to inspire moments of joy by putting our hearts into everything we do,”​ said Hostess CEO Andy Callahan.

“As the company that is all about sparking joy, we recognise that mental and emotional well-being is essential to happiness.

“It is critical to us that we demonstrate the importance of employee mental health and prioritise a StigmaFree workplace. We are excited about our national partnership with NAMI and the opportunity we have to do our part to make joy possible in the communities we serve by creating awareness, reducing stigma and increasing belonging.”

Walking the walk

Hostess is sponsoring three NAMIWalks in different cities where it operates to encourage employees, friends and family to help raise awareness and money for NAMI’s free mental health programmes in these communities. The walks – which can also be attended virtually – are scheduled to take place:

  • Chicago: Saturday, 17 September (from 12h00-16h00 CDT in Jackson Park)
  • Greater Indianapolis: Saturday, 8 October (09h00 CDT in OptiPark Indy)
  • Greater Kansas City: Saturday, 15 October (from 08h00-11h00 CDT in Macken Park)

“NAMI is thrilled to welcome Hostess as our national partner in creating a StigmaFree workplace and as a premier sponsor of our NAMIWalks events in Chicago, Indianapolis and Kansas City,”​ said Jessica Edwards, NAMI’s chief development officer.

“Hostess employees across the country are embracing NAMI’s StigmaFree workplace approach and they are now supporting NAMIWalks as volunteers and fundraisers.”

The cost of COVID

Long COVID Justin Paget
Pic: GettyImages/Justin Paget

In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by a massive 25%, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). And while the impact of the pandemic has been different for everyone, but there's no doubt it's been a really difficult time for all.

More worryingly, a Harvard study found that people suffering from poor mental health are particularly prone to long Covid,​ suffering persistent and often debilitating ailments such as fatigue, breathlessness, brain fog and heart problems for more than three months. An estimated 150 million adults and 13 million children currently suffer with Long Covid symptoms, with the economic cost to the US to date tipping more than $386b.

The findings come as the Long Covid Research Initiative (LCRI) – a coalition of researchers from institutions such as Harvard, Yale and Johns Hopkins University – has been launched in the US to explore Long Covid and potential therapies.

While the relationship between mental wellbeing and the affliction is unclear, psychological distress can drive chronic inflammation and disrupt the immune system, potentially making people more vulnerable, the researchers noted in JAMA Psychiatry.

Lead author Siwen Wang, an epidemiologist at Harvard University, said it is important for people in poor mental health to have good access to care.

“Future research should investigate whether better management of psychological distress can prevent people from getting long Covid or improve their symptoms,”​ she said.

A StigmaFree company

Mental health support Portra
Pic: GettyImages/Portra

According to NAMI, 52% of employees believe their company don’t do enough to promote employee health. But this is easily changed.

NAMI’s StigmaFree Company initiative encourages business practices that take responsibility for a company’s impact on social wellbeing, starting with a welcome kit of the resources, assets and information need to get going.

Supervisors and employees should be open to conversations about how to support employee mental health, be proactive in approaching co-workers who may be struggling and be understanding if someone needs accommodations or time off work.

Provide training for managers to know how to have effective conversations about mental health and wellness in relation to conversations about performance and discipline.

Use non-stigmatising language, encouraging employees to support one another and providing resources about mental health helps create a healthy workplace culture.

The company is also advised to support employees by offering adequate insurance coverage, employee assistance programmes, accommodations or disability planning for people with mental health conditions, access to quality care and policies to support family caregivers.

Hostess Brands employs over 2,600 workers to produce some of America’s most loved sweet bakes, cupcakes, mini doughnuts and sugar-free cookies, with sales exceeding $1.1bn annually.


Associations of Depression, Anxiety, Worry, Perceived Stress, and Loneliness Prior to Infection With Risk of Post–COVID-19 Conditions

Authors: Wang S, Quan L, Chavarro JE, et al

JAMA Psychiatry. Published online 7 September 2022


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