On Caitlin Waugh’s second day as general manager of a Best Buy store in Portland, Oregon, one of her employees told her they wanted to take their own life.
Needless to say, it was an eye-opening experience for her.
“In that moment, I realized I wasn’t really equipped with the skills to navigate these conversations,” Caitlin said.
Thankfully, she was able to help the employee through the crisis, but she knew a situation like this could happen again with someone else. She wanted to be better prepared to support that person, if and when it happened.
Best Buy offers a wide array of mental health resources for employees, but Caitlin wanted to go even further. She wanted to learn more skills that could help her navigate a crisis and handle delicate conversations.
After doing some research, Caitlin came across a Mental Health First Aid Kit program that trains people to identify, understand and respond to people who are struggling with their own mental health. She quickly signed up and received her certification.
“If someone comes to me in a crisis asking for help, I need to know how to talk with them,” she said. “This certification gives me the skills to assess a crisis, talk with the person who’s struggling and work to get them on the right path.”
It can be hard to tell when someone is experiencing mental health distress, but with these new skills, Caitlin said she’s able to identify those who are struggling a little easier. When she sees those signs, she lets the person know she’s there to talk.
“It’s never easy to have these types of conversations,” Caitlin said. “But the more conversations I have, I feel more and more confident that I’m doing the right thing.”
Bridging Mental, Physical Health
As a competitive athlete in college with a self-described “save the world” mentality, Caitlin has always understood how important physical health is to a person’s well-being.
In fact, when she’s not working in the store, she’s training in the gym as a competitive bodybuilder. She is still relatively new to the sport but has already won one competition. And she’s even helped a handful of personal training clients achieve their own fitness goals.
That background made it easy for Caitlin to quickly embrace the importance of mental health, too.
“I love helping people get the most out of their lives,” she said. “I see how my desire to help people improve through physical fitness translates seamlessly to helping others improve their own mental health.”
Caitlin’s desire to help others improve their physical and mental fitness led to her earning a master’s degree in public health. But she soon realized that the same aspects that drew her to that field were also present for her at Best Buy.
“There are over 100 employees working in my store, and while I might not be helping them do a 200-pound squat in the gym, I’m helping them improve the quality of their lives through different means,” Caitlin said. “Whether that’s helping them with financial wellness or encouraging someone on the team to go back to college, all of it factors into overall wellness and this job gives me the opportunity to play a positive role in that.”
Caitlin’s drive to go above and beyond to support her team has been contagious. Nearly half of Best Buy’s store managers in the Portland have now completed a Psychological First Aid training certification through Johns Hopkins University — similar to the one Caitlin did — to prepare them for more meaningful conversations with their teams.
“Caitlin has a way about her that’s incredibly open, and she takes the time to talk with her employees to let them know that she genuinely cares about their well-being,” said Jen Benities, Best Buy’s market human resource manager for the Northwest. “Store managers have a massive amount of work on their plates to begin with, so it’s truly inspiring to see a leader like Caitlin extend themselves in such a supportive way.”
Best Buy already offers employees various resources to support employees mental health. Last year, the company doubled the number of no-cost counseling sessions provided to employees and their family members and introduced a digital platform to help employees gauge and address a variety of mental health conditions.
However, with Oregon having the highest rate of depression in the country, there’s a need for even more support there. The extra work these Portland-area store leaders are doing has a created a workplace where employees can feel safe knowing someone has their back if they are struggling with their own mental health.
Stores in the greater Northwest are taking notice of Caitlin and her Portland-area peers, too.
“Everything Caitlin has been doing around mental health has turned on a light bulb for many of our store leaders throughout the Northwest,” Jen said. “They see how important it is to address anxiety and depression, and they want to do whatever they can to support anyone who’s struggling with these issues.”
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If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255 for immediate support.