A Healthy Outlook Newsletter from your MCPS Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

Fall 2023

In This Issue

  • The EAP has a New Phone Number
  • Welcoming the 2023–2024 School Year
  • Goal Setting and Building Wellness Habits
  • September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month
  • EAP News
  • Join the EAP for the 'Out of the Darkness Community Walk'
  • Depression Screening Day—October 5, 2023
  • Caregiver Support Group Information
  • Financial Wellness Webinars
  • The EAP and Well Aware
  • Fall Digital Bulletin Board Now Available
  • Ask the EAP

The EAP has a New Phone Number

The Employee Assistance Program (EAP) has a new phone number. You can now reach the in-house EAP at 240-740-6500 (Monday–Friday from 8:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m. year-round). The EAP provides confidential and no-cost counseling, wellness information, and support to all MCPS employees and their adult household members.

Welcoming the 2023–2024 School Year

Although the first day of school for students was on August 28, 2023, staff began preparing for the school year long before it started. From designing engaging lesson plans to coordinating bus routes and enrolling new students, every staff member has a role in preparing for the start of a new school year. The start of any school year can bring up feelings of excitement and/or feelings of stress. What intentions do you want to set for the 2023–2024 school year? Think about how these intentions can support your mental health and well-being this year.

Goal Setting and Building Wellness Habits

Imagine, you've just set a new goal for yourself. You feel excited, energized, and empowered to make changes to reach your goal. Perhaps you create a new schedule or routine to help support your goal. You start off strong for the first few weeks or months. Now fast-forward six months from now when you are no longer taking the same steps to reach your goal. Life got busy and the demands from work and your personal life got in the way. You feel disappointed, ashamed, and embarrassed. For many of us, this cycle sounds familiar.

It's difficult to make sustainable changes to our habits and routines. It can be helpful to understand the stages of change model, how to set SMART goals, and how to be more compassionate toward ourselves when making a change.

Stages of Change Model

The Stages of Change model is one way to understand a cycle of change. There are typically six stages identified in this model: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, and relapse.

  1. Pre-contemplation: Those in this stage are not yet considering making a change. They may not be thinking about changing, or if they are, they see the cons of changing far outweighing the pros of changing.
  2. Contemplation: Those in this stage may have identified there is a need for change in their life, yet they remain neutral about taking any steps toward making this change.
  3. Preparation: Those in this stage have decided to make a change and are ready to take the steps needed to change in the near future.
  4. Action: Those in this stage have begun changing their behavior. Their actions support their desire to change.
  5. Maintenance: Those in this stage have continued with their actions to change, typically for six months or longer.
  6. Relapse: Those in this stage have resumed their original behavior and are no longer implementing their action steps toward changing. This is a typical and expected part of behavior change as we fall back onto old habits.


When we begin to contemplate and prepare to change our behavior, setting a SMART goal is one tool that can help support change. SMART goals are goals that are specific, measurable, active, reachable, and time-bound.

  • Specific: You might consider asking yourself, is this easy to understand and meaningful to me? If you have a broad, general goal for yourself, think about how you can narrow this goal to be as specific as possible.
  • Measurable: How will you track or monitor progress toward your goal? Think about what you can observe in yourself or your environment that will help you keep track of your steps toward this goal.
  • Active: What exactly do you need to do to achieve this goal? Think about what actions you need to take, that are within your scope of control, to reach your goal.
  • Reachable: Is this goal possible for you to achieve? Sometimes we are over-eager and ambitious when setting goals for ourselves. Consider reflecting honestly on how to make this goal realistic for your life.
  • Time-Bound: When will you complete this goal? Consider setting a timeline or time frame for yourself to reach this goal.


When you experience a difficult time or make mistakes, are you as kind to yourself as you are to your loved ones? Many of us struggle to show compassion toward ourselves. Dr. Kristen Neff identifies three components of self-compassion.

  1. Self-kindness vs. Self-judgment: This looks like being gentle and understanding toward ourselves when we make mistakes and experience suffering instead of ignoring our pain or being overly critical toward ourselves.
  2. Common humanity vs. Isolation: This involves recognizing that all humans experience suffering and are imperfect. Accepting this as a shared human experience can help us feel connected to each other rather than believe we are the only person in the world who would make this mistake or experience this difficulty.
  3. Mindfulness vs. Over-identification: This looks like the practice of being present and non-judgmental as we observe our thoughts and feelings without trying to deny them, change them, or get stuck in them.

Putting This All Together

Imagine you love to read fiction books. Just this past summer you finished five books and enjoyed getting lost in a good story. As the new school year starts up, you recognize that you want to read more during the school year too (time-bound). As you consider this desire to read more, you think about what other aspects of your behavior and routine need to change to prioritize time to read more fiction books during the school year. Perhaps you don't think any behavior needs to change and you'll just be able to fit reading in this year (pre-contemplation). Or perhaps you recognize you want to spend less time using social media to fit in more time for reading, but you're not ready to limit your time on social media (contemplation). Once you've identified you're ready to reduce your time on social media (preparation) and begun limiting time on social media (action), you consider your goal of reading more fiction books during the school year. You consider what genres of fiction books you most enjoy and want to read (specific). You think about how many books you want to read and decide on ten (measurable). You identify the time of day or days of the week that you are going to read (active). As you think about your busy life, you decide that reading before bed on school nights would fit into your routine best (reachable). Now your desire to read more fiction books during the school year has turned into a SMART goal: "I will finish ten science fiction books this school year by reading before bed on school nights instead of spending that time on social media."

After a few months, you notice that you've begun to fall asleep while you read on some nights, and on other nights you find yourself reaching for your phone (relapse) and that you haven't made much progress toward your goal of finishing ten books. Instead of judging yourself for returning to old habits, you practice being kind to yourself. You acknowledge the change you want to make and revisit your plan of action to reduce your time on social media before bed to make time for reading (preparation). You begin to charge your phone at night out of reach from your bed (action) and revise your SMART goal to "finish seven books this school year by reading before bed on three school nights each week instead of spending that time on social media". By the end of the school year you've reached, or even surpassed your goal, and are consistently using less social media before bed (maintenance).

Creating lasting change and building habits that support well-being takes time, intention, and hard work! We must recognize a desire to change our current habits in order to make room for change. And we must accept that returning to our old behaviors is a common human experience, one that benefits from self-compassion rather than self-judgment when it happens. To learn more about self-compassion, visit Dr. Kristin Neff's website below. And remember, if you need help creating sustainable change in your life, the EAP is here to help.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. We all have a role in helping prevent suicide in our communities. The EAP is here to help. You may call the in-house EAP at 240-740-6500 (Monday–Friday 8:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m.) or our external EAP partner at 866-496-9599 (24/7/365). If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, call 988, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, or call 911 immediately. The Montgomery County Crisis Center is also available 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 240-777-4000 or in person at 1301 Piccard Drive, Rockville, MD 20850.

The National Institute of Mental Health identifies the following as warning signs that someone may be at immediate risk for attempting suicide:

  • Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
  • Talking about feeling empty or hopeless or having no reason to live
  • Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
  • Feeling unbearable emotional or physical pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Giving away important possessions
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family
  • Putting affairs in order, such as making a will
  • Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
  • Talking or thinking about death often

Other serious warning signs that someone may be at risk for attempting suicide include:

  • Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy
  • Making a plan or looking for ways to kill themselves, such as searching for lethal methods online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
  • Talking about feeling great guilt or shame
  • Using alcohol or drugs more often
  • Acting anxious or agitated
  • Changing eating or sleeping habits
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

Suicide is not a normal response to stress. Suicidal thoughts or actions are a sign of extreme distress and should not be ignored. If these warning signs apply to you or someone you know, get help as soon as possible, particularly if the behavior is new or has increased recently.

Here are five steps you can take to #BeThe1To help someone in emotional pain:

  1. ASK: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” It’s not an easy question, but studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts.
  2. KEEP THEM SAFE: Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention. While this is not always easy, asking if the at-risk person has a plan and removing or disabling the lethal means can make a difference.
  3. BE THERE: Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling. Research suggests acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce rather than increase suicidal thoughts.
  4. HELP THEM CONNECT: Save the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline number (call or text 988) in your phone so they’re there if you need them. You can also help make a connection with a trusted individual like a family member, friend, spiritual advisor, or mental health professional.
  5. STAY CONNECTED: Staying in touch after a crisis or after being discharged from care can make a difference. Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person.

National Institute of Mental Health

EAP News

Join the EAP for the Montgomery County

'Out of the Darkness Community Walk'

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Out of the Darkness Community Walk is an opportunity to unite in our support to prevent suicide and acknowledge the ways in which suicide has affected our lives and the lives of those we care about. The Montgomery County walk will take place on September 17, 2023, at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, Maryland.

Check-in starts at 9:00 a.m. and the walk begins at 10:00 a.m. Join the EAP for this Out of the Darkness Community Walk by registering to walk at the link below.

Depression Screening Day—October 5, 2023

The EAP will be conducting screenings for depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Screenings are free, confidential, and available to all MCPS employees and their adult household members. This is an opportunity to learn more about depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other mood disorders, complete a brief screening questionnaire, and speak one-on-one with a mental health professional. Reviewing the results takes less than 30 minutes. If appropriate, referrals will be made for a complete evaluation.

The in-house EAP will be offering screening appointments in-person or virtually on Thursday, October 5, 2023. Call the EAP at 240-740-6500 if you have questions and to schedule an appointment.

Caregiver Support Group Information

Navigating work and personal demands can be all the more challenging for those caregiving for a loved one. To support our caregivers, the in-house EAP offers a Caregiver Support Group designed to provide helpful resources and establish connections among the caregivers within the MCPS community. The support group meetings are held virtually on the second Wednesday of every other month. Speaker presentations are held virtually on a monthly basis. Speakers present important educational topics related to caregiving for a loved one. Group members will also have the option to connect with one another on newly developing communication platforms. This group is open to MCPS employees and MCPS retirees, and their adult household members. Interested in receiving emails about the Caregiver Support Group? Complete the Google Form below.

View this year's calendar for information on support groups, educational presentations, and how to RSVP for monthly meetings below.

Financial Wellness Webinars

Did you know that good financial wellness positively correlates with mental health and well-being? If someone is struggling with debt and high financial stress, their physical and mental well-being can also suffer. Therefore, the EAP is excited to partner with the Foundation for Financial Education (F3E) this school year to offer free financial wellness webinars available to all MCPS employees! These webinars will provide a proactive way to manage and improve financial wellness. You can register for the upcoming webinars by clicking on the links below.

The EAP and Well Aware

Did you know that mental and physical health are linked? Do you feel butterflies in your stomach when you are nervous, or headaches when you are feeling stressed or under pressure? Recent research has shown that an improvement or decline in one can lead to an improvement or decline in the other. The great news is that the body and brain are both very responsive to positive change!

For this reason, the EAP and Well Aware (MCPS Employee Wellness Program) are excited to work together to bring you monthly topics focusing on mental and physical health. These joint resources can help align your wellness journey to support both your physical and mental health.

Find these resources monthly on the Well Aware eNewsletter, the Well Aware Toolbox, the Staff Bulletin, the EAP website, and more!

Fall Digital Bulletin Board Now Available

Ask the EAP

Q: What kind of help is available from the EAP?

A: The EAP is a no-cost, confidential MCPS employee benefit that is available to all employees and their adult household members. There are a variety of services available from the EAP, including:

  • Wellness information and workshops
  • Short-term counseling (up to eight sessions)
  • Supervisory consultations
  • Dispute Resolution Program (mediation)
  • Caregiver Support Group
  • Critical Incident Response
  • Referrals to community resources

Workplace stress is the most common reason employees contact the EAP, and the EAP can help you with personal conflicts, relationship issues, coping with grief and loss, depression, anxiety, other mental health concerns, financial or legal issues, and alcohol or other substance use. The EAP is here for you!

Do you have a general question for the EAP you would like to see answered in A Healthy Outlook? Submit your question via email to EAP@mcpsmd.org.

Important note: Information in A Healthy Outlook is for general information purposes only, for adults, and is not intended to replace the counsel or advice of a qualified health professional.

For further questions, or help with specific problems or personal concerns, please contact the EAP. Call 240-740-6500 (Monday–Friday, 8:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m.) to schedule an appointment with Erica Guiton, LCSW-C, CEAP, or Maxine Marshall, LCSW-C. You may also call the external EAP partner at 866-496-9599 (24/7/365) for help scheduling an appointment with a counselor.