Understanding the effects of mental health in the workplace (and what we can all do to help)

Understanding the effects of mental health in the workplace (and what we can all do to help)

Posted on January 28, 2020

By Nathan Rasmussen, Safety Advisor

Bell Let’s Talk day is upon us again; a fabulous opportunity to shine a spotlight on mental health break down stigmas, and focus on a problem that not only directly impacts 1 in 5 Canadians, but will indirectly affect us all at some point in our lives. This is a complicated issue and an enormous project. A project so big, that the work that needs to go into accomplishing this goal can be overwhelming at times. Before we plunge on and talk about what our next steps should be, let’s take a moment to celebrate our successes from the last year!

If you’re having trouble identifying places where you were a champion for mental health, let me assure you of two things:

  • A raindrop becomes a flood and a snowflake becomes an avalanche – incremental change works. 
  • Someone you know appreciated your support last year, even if you didn’t realize you were providing it.

The best batters in baseball history, the Hall of Famers, the ones on the sought-after baseball cards – none of them went to the plate expecting to hit a home run every time and neither should you. Let’s look at five ways that each of us may have helped in this past year:

Language

Whenever we use a label to describe someone, we are reducing that person to that label, and no one label could ever completely encapsulate any single person. Did you choose to say “Nathan seems to be struggling with mental illness”, rather than “Nathan sure has been crazy lately”? If so, you are helping to drive change.

Educate yourself

Mental health is still an unknown for many of us and we all fear the unfamiliar. Learning the myths and fact about mental illness will help end the stigma associated with mental health. Did you take a Mental Health First Aid class this year? St. John’s Ambulance Manitoba’s website. How about a class on Psychological Safety in the Workplace (A Hazard is a Hazard delivered by the Canadian Mental Health Association)?  If so, you are helping to drive change.

Be kind

A smile and wave, an invitation for coffee and a chat: these actions build connections and let those around us know that they’re not alone and can help open up the conversation. Using language like “you’ll get over it.”, “suck it up”, or my personal least favourite “man up” minimizes the other person’s feelings. Any sentence that starts with “well, at least…” does not need to be a part of this conversation. If you have listened to someone or fostered a connection, you are helping to drive change.

Listen and ask

Want to be a better listener? Here are a few tips! The pain and suffering from mental illness is very common and sometimes the simple act of listening can be the first step in recovery for someone you love. If you have taken the time to ask “is everything okay?”, said, “I’m sorry you’re not feeling well”, or asked “How can I help?”, you are helping to drive change.

Talk about it

Break the silence. It takes an unbelievable amount of courage and strength to ask for help when you need it. We can all make it easier for those around us to ask for that help by normalizing getting help for mental health issues. Have you shared the story of a person who has experienced mental health issues and is succeeding? Have you shared your own personal story? If so, you are helping to drive change.

Mental health in the workplace

As with any other strategic target (and make no mistake, safeguarding the psychological safety of your most important resource is absolutely strategic) we should be developing a plan to achieve the goals, including measurable key performance indicators. However, as with any other strategic plan, if you don’t know where you’re starting or where you want to go, any road can take you there.  The starting point is to identify a baseline and there are resources available to help you with that.

There are 13 factors the impact mental health in the workplace, and each of them is important. Understanding these factors and how the culture at your organization views them is important to set that baseline.

Guarding Minds at Work has developed a free anonymous survey tool to identify where your team feels that your company’s strength and weaknesses may be.

Once you have the results of survey, get together with your safety committee to identify which aspects of your psychological safety program’s continuous improvement must be addressed first, along with how you will measure success and what activities you’ll need to undertake to achieve the goals set out in your plan. Now is the time to use the SMART Goal model to help your team identify specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time bound actions to drive your psychological safety program forward. For additional support in developing your psychological safety program you can reach out to Made Safe, The Canadian Mental Health Commission, Manitoba Federation of Labour Occupational Health Centre, or The Canadian Mental Health Association. For Mental Health First Aid training, contact Bryan Wall of the Manitoba St. John’s Ambulance at bryan.wall@sja.ca. Made Safe members receive a discount when registering through Bryan for all St. John’s training.

A final note, culture can be defined as the sum of all accepted behaviours. Regardless of how great your plans may be, culture eats strategy for breakfast. If your culture will not support the activities that your team identifies as necessary to improve mental health safeguards in your workplace, your initiatives will not succeed the way you envision them. Remember, as a leader in your workplace you need to be the change your want to see. If you’re not condemning negative or hurtful behaviours, you’re condoning them. 

We all need to be the change we want to see.  Red Green had it right, I’m pulling for you.  We’re all in this together.

Please enable JavaScript to view this form.