Mental Health, the Workplace and You

Why yesterday was so important
September 4, 2017

Mental Health, the Workplace and You

Picture someone: they eat a lot of junk food and have a pretty poor diet in general. They don’t exercise, they have a sedentary job, they can’t wait to get home from work so they can sit on the couch and watch Netflix, and they probably smoke and drink too…but they’re not sick. Is this person healthy? Most people would say “no”. (Also, sorry if this is you. I’m not picking on you, much of this description comes from personal experience at one point or another in my own life. I promise. I’m just trying to make a point, please read on.)

Let’s look at someone else: they are under a lot of stress at work, both from deadlines and difficult coworkers, maybe someone dealing with family problems, and they’re concerned about the economy and future job prospects. They are exhausted about reading about terrorist attacks and mass shootings and climate change and all of the other overwhelming aspects of today’s world. On top of it all they are wondering how they’re going to get supper on the table and their kids to soccer, music lessons, and swimming this evening, They don’t have a mental illness, but is this person mentally healthy?

“Mental health comprises our ability to think, feel and act in a way that allows us to perform effectively in our work environments, our personal lives and our broader social community.” (From the University of Fredericton “An Introduction to Psychological Health & Safety in the Workplace”). Mental health is more than simply not having a mental illness. As physical health requires a good maintenance plan (diet, exercise, etc.), mental health requires a maintenance plan as well.

Let’s go back to the people in our examples. The first person might have friends and family intervene and say, “it’s time to get off the couch,” or “I’m concerned about your health,” or ‘I  think you should quit smoking,” etc. Concerned loved ones may see a problem and choose to act. With the second person, the person dealing with a lot of mental “weight”, their loved ones may not see any physical symptoms or problems, so there won’t be any interventions. Or, as mental health can still be taboo in some circles, their friends and family may not be as comfortable reaching out.

There is a hashtag making the rounds on social media #mentalhealthawareness, with the theme “someone is always listening”. I think this is great for raising mental health awareness (hence the name of the hashtag), but from my research (albeit limited), someone who needs help is probably not going to ask for help, especially if they’re a male, and especially if they’re in Alberta (my home province). A great article was published not too long ago about this, Oil, Heartbreak, and Manhood: Behind the Mental Health Crisis of Alberta’s Oil Workers.

What can you, as an employer or a co-worker, do?

Talking about mental health can be tricky, How do you reach out to someone you’re concerned about without making them uncomfortable? In a workplace situation, how do you share mental health resources without targeting someone and compromising their privacy?

The Mental Health Commission of Canada has developed a National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. There are also a number of organizations offering training to workers and supervisors in the field of mental health.

Here at Boreal we recognize that psychological (or mental) health and safety in the workplace is just as important as physical health and safety. We have been developing tools and resources for our clients and learning all we can about the topic. Deidra is currently completing a Certificate in Managing Psychological Health Issues at Work through the University of Fredericton. Justine recently took a course in Mental First Aid. As mentioned in a previous Boreal blog post, Mental Health First Aid mirrors the concept of standard first aid which means you’re not going to be a junior psychologist any more than you’re going to be a junior surgeon from taking a first aid course. Get the person stable, then get them the help they need.

If you work, if you’re a business owner, if you even just know someone who works, you are affected by mental health. It could be a co-worker, your boss, a family member, an employee. In Boreal’s dreamworld, we would like for all Canadian workers to receive training on mental health issues and all companies to implement a mental health strategy. Each of us is a part of the solution.

Let’s keep the conversation going. We will be posting regular psychological health and safety at the workplace articles. If you are interested in setting up your own mental health program at your company, please be in touch. In the meantime, here are some great Canadian resources:

If you want to add a mental health component to your safety program, be in touch! We would love to help.

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