When Susan Drabic’s son started exhibiting symptoms of mental illness, she was worried about the effects it could have on her work life.
Drabic, a senior talent management consultant for PPL Electric Utilities, had to run out of the office a few times to take care of her son, who suffers from bipolar disorder.
“I wasn’t sure how people would react if I shared what was going on, given the stigma of mental illness,” Drabic said.
Instead of cold shoulders, Drabic was pleasantly surprised by the warm support she received from empathetic employees.
Some offered advice and encouragement. Others were just there to listen.
“A major initiative of PPL is to create an inclusive environment for all employees,” Drabic said. “I’m grateful for the support I’ve felt here while dealing with my son’s mental illness.”
With May being Mental Health Awareness Month, Drabic reflected on how far her son has come with proper treatment and community support.
“When you’re in the midst of this, you think it’s always going to be this bad – like there’s no hope things will get better,” said Drabic. “Mental illness is not a casserole disease. People don’t come to your house and give you a casserole when they find out you or a loved one is suffering from mental illness. A lot of people back away.”
But her fellow PPL employees didn’t.
PPL supports employees and their families who are struggling with personal issues in various ways. Pennsylvania employees and their families are eligible for free counseling for a variety of issues. And PPL has a Business Resource Group called REACH – Rallying Employees Above Challenging Histories – that is focused on providing resources to improve the well-being of “differently-abled” employees and their families.
“It’s crucial that we have a workplace where people feel comfortable with any illness – mental or physical,” said Kristine Maciolek Small, director of Diversity, Inclusion, and Talent Management in Corporate Human Resources and president of REACH.
REACH has hosted seminars for employees featuring groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Capital Blue Cross to provide information on mental health issues and where employees and their family members can seek help. REACH also speaks about mental health issues and shares resources with members at its meetings.
Drabic said it’s important that employees and the community in general stop spreading the stigma attached to people living with mental illnesses. She believes if people viewed mental illnesses the same way they viewed physical illnesses, the resulting compassion and empathy generated could help those with mental illnesses find more help.