Return to Work: A Leaders Guide to Avoiding The Mental Health Crisis by Rex Miller & Jeff Jernigan

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Jeff Jernigan, PhD has been appointed a Fellow with The American Institute of Stress for his influence and accomplishments in behavior health, research,

and practical application in the field.

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Co-Authored with Rex Miller

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Jeff & Nancy



July 29, 2021 - Con * tent * ment - a state of happiness and satisfaction

*This is an excerpted from Jeff's article in Contentment Magazine.

By Jeff Jernigan, PhD

Interesting that the definition carries with it the sense of a claim, something to be paid, as if contentment were owed to us. It certainly is something sought after, and once found, difficult to hold on to! Disconcerting circumstances, disappointed expectations, and frustrated desires all seem to somehow steal our joy at the most inopportune times, evaporating contentment like mist in the dry heat of the desert. Is it us, or the capricious nature of life in this world that seems to conspire against our claim upon happiness and satisfaction? Actually, it is us.

Contentment is both an emotion and a choice. It is both biological and psychological. It is a neurological response to stimuli in the limbic region of our brain which we experience as one of our most fundamental emotions,2 and at the same time, a volitional choice we make to be content, or not, in spite of circumstances.3 This is more than a little confusing for me since I grew up learning from experience that happiness and satisfaction, and therefore contentment, were a result, not a choice. Boy was I wrong! It is actually the other way around; psychologically contentment is also a choice and not a result. Here is why this is true.

Emotions, in the sense of mental health, are not just tied to our psychology, but to our biology as well.  It is a two-way street with body impacting mind and mind impacting body. This is why experts tell us a healthy brain means healthy body and mind. At the same time, we can make decisions that enable us to regulate our emotions. Take anger, for example. It is one of the strongest fundamental emotions we can experience. Yet anger is also a feeling we can choose to manage. There is a well-developed professional specialty, Anger Management, built around this concept of exercising volitional choice in order to manage our anger.  In fact, we can manage all of our emotions in a manner that does not allow them to manage us.

Continue the article click below:

June 9, 2021 ~ Moving Forward When What May Be Wrong is a Mystery 


Jeff attended a global summit conference recently when the US Department of Commerce projected that "globalization will continue to disrupt economies around the world for the next seven years and perhaps longer due to COVID-19.1".  “No country will be out of the woods until the world is out of the woods.” (Vyas, N - The Impact of COVID-19).


Jeff writes, "For employers right down to employees, this means living with uncertainty, varying degrees of health risk, and prolonged stress that will still be with us for some time."  Yes, in order to help employers and employees we need to understand the effects of stress on us, our society and much more.  


Jeff wrote an article for The American Institute of Stress (AIS) - click on the below link to read the full article and hear more about what he says about dealing with stress today and even how some of our psychological challenges can become medical conditions through somatization.  What can we rule out and what must not be ruled out. 


Helpful Answers: Article by Jeff Jernigan, PhD


~ Nancy


April 5, 2021 - Check out Nancy's Leadership Blog 

On Leadership Development, Being Taught By God and A Spiritual Crux - with special guest Lauren Franco. 




March 23, 2021 - Emotional Intelligence 


Emotional intelligence, also called simply “EQ,” is something everyone has to different degrees.  Some come by it more naturally than others, but anyone can learn to act and speak with EQ.  In a time when everyone is stressed and many are concerned about keeping their jobs, their homes, and their health we need to choose emotional regulation over acting out.  

Emotional Intelligence is the ability to understand, use, and manage your own emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges and defuse conflict. Our natural behaviors in leadership, communication, problem solving, and style under duress reflect our emotional intelligence. 

Emotional intelligence is crucial to working relationships that depend upon collaboration, team work, and good interpersonal communication. It is a function of learned behavior and can be taught and practiced in order to facilitate organizational change coming out of a crisis like we are experiencing.  Emotional intelligence is a necessary leadership quality and if someone minimizes the important of EI they may be  making their role more about themselves and not about others or the organization.

Think about it: self-awareness, self-regulation, the ability to motivate others positively, empathy, and social skills all enhance one’s leadership effectiveness.  These also happen to be the basic ingredients of high EQ, of leaders who help us do more than survive, but thrive in adversity.  
Dr. Jeff


March 15, 2021 - Empathy 


Empathy is the ability to imagine the feelings of others.  Empathy helps us understand others and at the same time helps others experience being listened to, understood, and taken seriously.  Some believe empathy is a soft skill that has only marginal value in the workplace.  This is not true.  Empathy is hard skill excellent leaders have mastered.  

Empathy is a key component of emotional intelligence, another crucial leadership capacity we will visit in the next blog.  Empathy enables us to connect with others, and they with us, and is foundational in all good relationships in work and life.  Empathy enables us to read body  language, intuit someone else’s disposition, be above average in resolving conflicts, and stand by our values without giving offense.

Just talking to each other in person, over the phone, and in meetings that minimize the use of technology when those conversations are possible cultivates empathy.  Out of these personal connections grows respect, openness, listening conversations, and understanding of other people’s perspectives.  Personal bias we may be unaware of diminishes in the face of empathy in a way no use of communications technology can accomplish.

In these days of social distancing, masks, and very limited personal contact we need to go the extra mile and spend the time necessary when we connect virtually to take a few minutes to connect personally.  Call it a coffee chat, the prelude to the meeting where we have a few minutes to catch up with one another.  

Dr. Jeff

     P.S.  Please check out Jeff's new book by clicking on "Return to Work" - A Leader's Guide to Avoiding Mental Health Crisis. (To the right of this Blog)


February 15, 2021 - Lessons Learned 


Well, it certainly has been months since we posted a blog!  This time last year I was racing out of Eastern Europe just ahead of travel lockdowns due to the pandemic.  As healthcare professionals, Nancy and I were quickly caught up in the whirlwind of COVID-19!  In the next four blogs you will find important lessons learned during this time that will sustain you through the weeks and months ahead as we pull out of this terrible time shared together.

As time drew long and expectations for a quick resolution ebbed away, we all settled in to a sort of involuntary confinement committed to doing our part to win through difficult times.  We also began to experience the effects of prolonged stress and uncertainty.  Prolonged stress over time is actually a form of trauma that, give enough time, can have the same impact as a car accident, or the loss of a loved one, or some other traumatic event.  

What is needed during these times is someone to process your experience with that is a trustworthy, non-judgmental friend who will listen well without a critical spirit.  This is actually a form of therapy, letting people express themselves in ways that takes what may be hidden and brings it into the open where it can be acknowledged and dealt with.  

If you are the listener in this formula, you need to be flexible and be available for unhurried conversations with people who may reach out to you.  Empathy is an antidote in these situations.  Empathy in conversations is what deescalates and detoxifies stress.
Dr. Jeff


October 23, 2020  -  A Leader's Guide to Avoiding the Mental Health Crisis ~ 


In observation of Mental Health Month we are offering a new resource from Rex Miller and Jeff Jernigan.  We hope you will find this manual helpful, transformational and inspiring. 

Click on the book on the RIGHT for more information and purchase. 


September 22, 2020  - Leadership Legacy in the Workplace ~ 


     Building strong leadership qualities in your executive team takes intentionality, time and a deep conviction. I have talked to many CEO and C-Suite leaders who say they want to develop a strong leadership development process yet the urgency of the moment and board financial pressures seem to take precedence. Developing a process in your organization in order to multiply strong leaders is no easy task. Leadership development processes and departments have risen in importance and visibility the last 10 years.


     As CEO’s and senior leaders I am sure you have put much thought into how you plan to build your leadership team. If you are a big NFL fan you may be familiar with the term used in football called “the coaching tree”.  If you are not a huge fan, let me briefly describe the concept of having a “coaching tree”. Some NFL coaches are known for developing and multiplying other effective coaches, thus developing an impressive coaching tree legacy.  Coaches who have a so called “coaching tree” are known for how they have influenced other successful coaches. In other words, their legacy extends farther than the teams they have lead. Have you thought about your need to develop a “corporate coaching tree”? Some leading owners of organizations have already done this by multiplying other great corporate leaders. Entrepreneurial CEO’s and leaders in particular are posed to multiply these type of leaders.


     The pressure of leading a corporate team in today’s pandemic culture may not afford you the luxury of a lot of extra time, yet the most effective leaders are indeed taking their high-priced time to strategically develop leaders in their C-suite that will some day be considered a part of their “coaching tree”.


     CEO’s who take the time needed to multiply leaders by training their next line of authority usually concentrate on a handful of reproducible skills and abilities. These skills include, inspiring strong character, sharing knowledge, igniting innovative thinking, providing tools and resources for excellence, integrating corporate values and encouraging personal and professional growth.


     As you intentionally take the time to build your leadership team you may also see that your line of authority follows suit and equips their teams with these same abilities. This coaching concept of equipping leaders to lead others is not something all business leaders grasp or have the innate ability to reproduce. It takes concentrative effort.


     Just like well-worn lighthouses’ have saved and navigated many ships, it would be a profound legacy if you were to multiply leaders who save companies, navigate leaders and equip others to build strong and successful companies. Building, training and developing top leaders whether in person or virtually will bring significant added value to your business and will pay off in the long run. So think about playing the long game and develop your executive team in ways that reproduce other strong leaders in your organization. It is imperative to put into place a strong leadership development process now that includes developing the leaders in your coaching tree. Just like the leading NFL coaches, wouldn’t it be quite a world class legacy if you were to reproduce leaders in this way.


Who is in your Corporate Coaching Tree?


Dr. Nancy

July 27, 2020 -  Leadership Can be Lonely, Part 2

    Here are four contemporary causes for feeling lonely, isolated, or shut out as a leader:


1) Instead of using performance objectives as tools for progress, they are used to criticize performance or, worse, as weapons. 


2) The leadership team environment provides insufficient psychological safety to support team effectiveness, innovation, or collaboration. 


3) A lack of understanding multi-cultural barriers to communication and collaboration (when 20% of the executive workforce, and growing, is foreign-born). 


4) When gender or racial bias sneaks into your thinking in a manner that excludes others and robs them of equitable treatment.  These are the obstacles the new generation of leaders face today.  This also contributes to deteriorating health for those who find themselves constantly in a largely punitive environment that hides behind smiles and complements.  

    Leadership can lonely, but it doesn’t have to be.  Live and work with authenticity that enables others around you to experience respect and dignity, acceptance of who they are, and your willingness to make sure they are included.  Your leadership will break down barriers and build trust. 


They will experience less isolation, and you will experience less loneliness at the top.
Dr. Jeff


June 30, 2020 - Leadership Can be Lonely, Part 1 
    The expression, “It can be lonely at the top” comes out of a social paradigm from a more traditional generation.  The risks of leadership in my father’s generation sometimes encouraged choosing your words and actions based upon how you wanted others to react rather than being based upon what you really think.  In my own generation the risks of leadership often gave rise to a choice to be made, depending on the situation, which was more important: helping the team or advancing your career?  These things still happen, but not as a culturally acceptable style of leadership.  

    If you do experience loneliness often in your role as a leader, keep this in mind: each generation develops a social paradigm all its own.  This is a result of  two dynamics.  First, they grow up responding to the previous generation’s social paradigm, determining what works for them and what doesn’t.  Social change produces this struggle quite naturally.  There are things in their new world the previous generation was not faced with in the same way that the present generation will need to navigate differently.  Second, they are faced with challenges that are altogether different from previous generations.  Each generation goes through this cycle of adaptation and invention.

    Take the time to reach across social boundaries in the workplace.  Those who come before and those who come after you share in common this shaping of their own generation.  Don’t get locked into chromo-centric thinking where you view the social paradigm of your generation as the best of all times.  Embrace change and differences.  You will find your self engaged with far more people across all ages, and not so much likely any more.
Dr. Jeff


May 27, 2020 - Mental Health Comes Out of the Shadows - Jeff Jernigan, PhD


     COVID-19 is transforming behavioral healthcare.  More and more employers are openly championing mental health resources in the workplace.  Increasing interest in behavioral care is tied to growing trends.  Suicide rates have increased 33%. Depression continues to contribute greatly to the overall global burden of disease.  Life expectancy in this country has decreased in relationship to suicide and the opioid epidemic. A growing focus on treating all needs, coordinating treatment, and providing innovative treatment is an emerging response.

     Examples of this intentional focus on mental health include the Hoag Hospital network in southern California which has gone after this with state-of-the-art emergency services and a holistic array of mental heath services in their expanded Hoag Mental Health Center.  Broader efforts are illustrated by the work the  OC Be Well Coalition is doing in Orange County, California.  The Coalition has brought a large number of public and private mental health stakeholders together to build three first-of-a-kind mental health facilities in the county.  This collaboration is unprecedented, bringing together state, county, and municipal governance, area hospitals, public insurance programs, CalOptima, and the faith-based community. 

     Mental healthcare and addiction treatment is envisioned as holistically integrated into all aspects of care.  More pediatric resources will be provided to address the under-met needs of children as well as the increasing rate of suicide in ages 15-24, the second leading cause of death among Americans.  The difficulty of access to mental health resources due to stigma experienced by children, adults, and senior citizens is being addressed.  Studies are underway to improve use of medications through evidence-based medicine.  Patient trials are underway to discover through analysis of brain activity how to better match patients to the medication they need. 


     The goal of these efforts is to improve access, integrate resources for more and better care, eliminate guesswork, and increase cost-effectiveness of care when it comes to treating mental illness.  Eliminating stigma is necessary for success in each of these domains.  I have worked in this arena in this country and on three continents and can say with surety: stigma is a universal impediment to gaining access to and benefiting from good mental healthcare.  


     Not so long ago we used to speak about medical illness publicly only in whispers.  Advances in medicine have taken us a long way since then to where there is not only a private dialogue about illness, but a very public one as well.  But mental health is still something very much “in the closet” that needs to find fresh air.  With mental health now a workplace concern, we can hopefully expect more open conversation and less stigma will follow.  We have made progress, yet there is still much to do.

Dr. Jeff 


May 19, 2020 - Why Taking Care of Your Employees is Essential to Company Success
By: John Boyens & Nancy Jernigan, PhD

     The pressure of leading a team in the workplace may seem challenging. Yet a critical part of leadership is caring for people as well as accomplishing the needed business goals. In fact, the best leaders are those who put the needs of their people as a priority. You may feel the most pressure to meet your goals at work, but in order to promote a healthy work environment and accomplish the needed goals, it is imperative to be aware of the physical and emotional needs of your employees.

Research shows employees will balance three organizational themes — the three “Rs” — in their decision to remain with a particular company:

Rewards: Salary, commission, benefits, incentives, continuing education, vacation time, retirement plans, etc.
Respect: How they’re treated, work environment, personal and professional growth opportunities, recognition, etc.
Requirements: Clearly defined job duties, realistic goals and expectations, dress code, etc.

Regularly addressing the three “Rs” create a healthy culture where employees can thrive. Studies on workplace effectiveness show that the healthier each individual is on the team, the more productive they will be in accomplishing their work. A healthy, productive team will actually accomplish more.

If you are looking for ways to improve the culture of your business, follow these guidelines:

Get to know your employees as people before getting to know them as employees. That knowledge will help you know how to get the absolute best out of each of them while at the same time recognizing and rewarding their individuality.
Inspire a positive and upbeat culture at work. Be aware of well-being resources and make it a priority to communicate effectively about the services that will enhance the resilience of your team. Train employees to notice their own levels of stress and how to take note of stress in others.

Provide a safe environment to maximize communication and collaboration among the workplace relationships. A psychologically safe environment is a shared belief that a team is safe for interpersonal risk taking. It can be defined as "being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career."2
Create a positive workspace. Clean facilities, comfortable furniture, ample workspace, proper equipment, collaborative break rooms/kitchens, and ample parking.

Ensure a high level of employee involvement. Give employees responsibility for helping to direct a change in culture.
Identify possible resistance in advance and develop strategies to overcome it. People react to change in different ways. Some embrace it while others need to be brought along kicking and screaming.
Celebrate success. Make sure that you recognize and celebrate successes (no matter how small) along the way.

~ Nancy 


April 7, 2020  - Leadership Alignment 
    Having worked in the medical device industry and later as a clinical professional and hospital administrator for many years, the term “Sentinel Event” sent chills down my spine whenever and wherever it was announced.  A sentinel event is a patient safety event that results in severe or permanent harm to a patient up to and including death.  These events are debilitating to patients, their families, the care providers and the institution where the event occurred.  Though this has led to decline in medical error rates, sometimes this is not enough.  The underlying cause is too often the non-alignment of leadership.

    Non-alignment of leadership can be costly in any industry, not just healthcare.  Alignment of leadership, especially between middle management, executive leadership, and the C-Suite is needs to be  pretty tight in well-run organizations. This require a just culture to be effective.

    A just culture holds people accountable while uniting teams in working for the common good.  This includes an environment of psychological safety where non-punitive errors are authentically addressed.  Improving the system is the goal, not placing blame.  This is a most challenging area to improve when most believe negative reports are held against them.  Learning from mistakes requires a culture where speaking up about problems is normal and expected.  

    Change starts at the top, with senior leadership, from orientation of new employees right on through continuous learning for seasoned leaders.  This is what creates leadership alignment and saves time and money, perhaps even lives.
Dr. Jeff


March 16, 2020 - Getting Things Done 

    Leaders in today’s workplace find themselves collaborating with peers to get things done more than relying on a formal hierarchy. The people we work with daily are not made up primarily of those who have a reporting relationship to us. More likely, our work is accomplished by a team of individuals across the organization whose functions we need each day to accomplish our tasks. While positional leadership still is important for administration of an organization, our daily leadership activities are characterized less by position than by relationship. 

    This puts a premium on exercising influence: actively listening, exercising empathy in communicating we understand another’s priorities and needs, as well as negotiating solutions that work best for everyone involved. And, it is a two-way street. Someone may come to us looking for help with something they need to accomplish which involves resources they don’t control, but we do.  

    This is where grace, kindness, and mercy become leadership skills: When people fail, we offer them grace: instead of fixing blame, we offer them favor and goodwill, and look for solutions. When people struggle, we offer them kindness: instead of answers, we offer forbearance and assistance helping them discover the answer. When people don’t measure up, we offer them mercy: instead of a critical spirit, we offer them encouragement and a new pathway to improved performance. 

    When we lead from relationship, offering the dignity of grace, kindness, and mercy in our response to others, trust and respect for our position seems to grow. Funny thing about that! People want to work with us and enjoy having us around. They seek out our counsel and give a heads-up when something happens in their sphere of influence which may impact ours. We act as true partners without organizational boundaries. 
Dr. Jeff


January 24, 2020 - Leading Your Team in Executive Resilience - Part 2 


     The pressure of leading a team and paying attention to your teams’ mental health in the workplace may seem challenging.  Yet a critical part of leadership is caring for people as well as accomplishing the needed business goals.  In fact, the best leaders are those who put the needs of people as a priority.  You may feel the most pressure to meet your goals at work, yet in order to lead a healthy work environment and in order to accomplish the needed goals, it is imperative to be aware of the emotional needs of the people on your team.  This includes mental health issues that could lead to burnout.  So, to have an effective, resilient team, leaders will find it productive to pay attention to the resilience of each team member.  

     Studies on workplace effectiveness show the healthier each individual is on the team the more productive they will be in accomplishing their work.  A healthy, productive team will actually accomplish more.

     When you notice someone disengaging or unnaturally withdrawing come alongside them with an encouraging attitude and help them re-engage.  Train employees to notice their own levels of stress and how to take note of stress in others.  Acknowledging you as a leader are concerned about the stress at work makes a huge difference in developing a positive work culture.  In addition, inspiring a positive and upbeat culture at work has a constructive and productive effect on employees and the team as a whole.   Be aware of well-being resources and make it a priority to communicate effectively about the well-being resources and services that will enhance the resilience of your team.  It may even be helpful to hand out well-being resources to your team as you communicate the importance of these resources or even start a library of well-being resources.

     Realize the importance of having a positive perspective on life and how this adds significant value to workplace effectiveness.  Use assessments when needed and provide materials to inform your team on resilient attitudes and the role they play in the workplace.  A positive mindset allows an individual to be more resilient and avoid low motivation and impulse control.  You can see how this directly affects a persons’ daily work. 

     Providing a psychologically safe environment is critical to maximizing communication and collaboration among workplace relationships. This is no longer something that should be on your wish list but is necessary in fostering healthy interactions and a healthy work environment.  A psychologically safe environment is a shared belief that a team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.  It can be defined as “being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career.”  Employees who collaborate effectively with one another are far more productive and efficient as a whole and are more likely to accomplish their team goals.  

     Cheering you on as the mental health advocate for your team, department and company. 

​Dr. Jeff