December 2, 2019

Taking care of mental health at work

Kaiser Permanente’s integrated care helped Janna Webbon share her mental health diagnosis with colleagues and build a supportive workplace environment.

Janna Webbon, right, brainstorming ideas with her colleague Sarah Brush.

While meeting with a colleague recently, the conversation became heated and Janna Webbon suddenly found herself hyperventilating and crying — she knew she was having a panic attack. Her colleague immediately jumped into action and retrieved Janna’s medication and some water. Afterward, Janna went home and rested.

Her colleague knew what to do because Janna had made the brave decision to disclose her panic disorder and bipolar II diagnosis a few weeks prior.

“Throughout my life, I never had the right diagnosis, medicine, or care until I became a Kaiser Permanente member. Here, I have coordinated and integrated care from the 24-hour nurse line, my primary care provider, an urgent care provider, psychiatrist, and counselor,” said Janna, a research support specialist with the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. “For the first time, they could all communicate, correctly diagnose me, and create a care plan with me.”

Thanks to the support and treatment provided by her care team, Janna felt more comfortable talking about her condition with her colleagues. Her colleagues have thanked her for being open about her diagnosis and shared that it made them feel more open about talking about their own mental health.

“Before, I kept all of my health information under a lid and didn’t feel comfortable disclosing because of the stigma … but then no one knew what was happening with me or how to help during a panic attack,” said Janna. “At previous jobs, I felt like I had to quit after having panic attacks at work and feeling ashamed.”

The power of supportive colleagues

Janna’s openness has allowed her manager and coworkers to better understand and support her both in her daily work and her long-term career plans. In addition to her responsibilities supporting faculty in grant applications, manuscripts, scheduling, meeting, and event planning, Janna now also mentors new hires. A “backup buddy” accompanies Janna to the all-day events she hosts in case she needs to leave, which also gives that person the opportunity to learn from her.

Because Janna has the appropriate accommodations in place and can take time away from work when necessary, she has been able to excel in her role. “At Kaiser Permanente, I feel like a valued team member and know that my experiences make the organization stronger,” Janna reflected. “People look to me for my input and ideas, and I help my team conduct better research that improves health care for all people.”

Outside of work, Janna plays the violin and finds that continuing to do the things she enjoys, even if they are triggering, or cause negative emotional reactions, takes away the power of her panic disorder. She engaged in exposure therapy — when patients are safely exposed to the activity that causes them distress — to help her face her fear of performing in public, one of the biggest triggers for her panic attacks. Afterward, she successfully staged an avant-garde performance art piece in a local chapel’s concert hall, with her manager and several colleagues in attendance.

“Janna’s performance was a beautiful window into her lived experience and personal creativity,” said Sarah Brush, Janna’s colleague. “I felt honored to witness Janna’s creativity in action and to celebrate her accomplishments with her.” Her manager, Melissa Rabelhofer, added, “Her performance was very powerful. Janna makes her panic disorder a part of her life and something she talks about in a way that is helpful for her, but I have also seen her openness help others by removing stigma. This public ownership came through in her performance as well as in her work here at Kaiser Permanente.”

Janna concluded, “I am grateful to have a job where I can be open about my health and feel appreciated and fully part of my team.”