Opinion: Canadian companies need to take "bold action" to address mental health

Oct 10 2022, 12:00 pm

Written for Daily Hive by Rachel Thexton, president of Thexton PR.

“Did you forget your meds today?” or “Take a chill pill” may be jokes heard at work. To some, these comments are offensive and painfully relatable.

As we recognize World Mental Health Day on October 10th, Canadian companies must do a better job at ensuring that employees feel understood and supported in their workplace culture while experiencing a mental illness.

Poor mental health or mental illness are sometimes accompanied by substance use disorder as individuals may try to self-medicate to soothe painful symptoms. Because of this, substance use education is also an area that needs improvement at work.

There are corporate cultures with mental health training programs and benefit packages that include extended care. These are good steps, but the workplace has a long way to go in educating leadership, and all employees, on the topic, while taking bold action to show that this area of an employee’s health is a priority, just as any health issue should be.

A big part in moving forward and improving workplace culture is destigmatizing mental illness. The stigma can be just as painful as the illness itself!

A policy in a large binder, and an annual session on mental health, is not enough when so many Canadians are suffering in silence. The feeling of judgment, gossip amongst colleagues and a lack of understanding, that hinders an individual’s efforts to recover/stabilize.

Almost a decade ago, after many years of producing excellent results for clients, I noticed that a couple of senior corporate leaders started to treat me differently, after I revealed that I had been experiencing substance use disorder, due to PTSD and a back injury.

This was hurtful.

I eventually resigned my clients and took a year off to recover and find balance. I was in burnout, working late for too many clients, while my health deteriorated. It took time to build back a busy and successful business. As mostly well-educated professionals, with access to a wealth of information, corporate employees have no excuse and must do better. Leadership must show by example. To those who are making efforts to learn, support and show empathy to colleagues who need it, you make a difference and are an

A 2022 Angus Reid study found that one-in-three Canadians report struggles with mental health with 23% saying that they’re ‘depressed’. I believe that this number is low, with mental health issues under-reported, many undiagnosed or apprehensive to admit their struggles.

Here are a few ways that Canadian corporate culture can improve, maybe saving lives in the process.

Host regular guest speakers from all professions and levels

Just like substance use disorder, mental illness does not care how much money you make or how successful you are. Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed his struggles with bipolar disorder while famous fashion designer Kate Spade sadly passed from suicide after a battle with depression and anxiety.

If Canadian corporate leaders with poor mental health experiences such as CEO’s, entrepreneurs, and other successful business owners are brave and willing to share their experience with corporate audiences, it may inspire some to seek help and destigmatize the topic.

Require learning about brain chemistry and reading one book annually, from a list of leading experts, a part of workplace requirements.

There are several professional opinions on mental illness and its development, but most experts agree that brain chemistry, mixed with ones’ experiences throughout their younger years, play a big role in the development of mental illness. Understanding the science, and that mental illness is more than feeling sad or unmotivated, but is an illness of the brain, is

Good reads include: Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me: Depression in the First Person by Anna Mehler Paperny,  Are u ok?: A Guide to Caring for Your Mental Health by Kati Morton, and In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Dr. Gabor Maté. Maté is an expert on mental health and substance use and his newest book entitled The Myth of Normal is incredibly insightful.

Watch: Daily Hive speaks with Dr. Maté on The Myth of Normal.

Dr. Mate includes this Richard Bentall quote; “Perhaps the line between sanity and madness must be drawn relative to the place where we stand.” The violence, unkindness, and lack of ethics in parts of our culture, unique life experiences we each have, what we witness and notice about our society, all play a role in our mental health. Each talented team member has their own story. Share and learn from each other.

Another suggested read is: All Mental Health Roads Lead To A Common Destination: Be Your Authentic Self, a recent Forbes article, which recommends taking regular moments of silence in the workplace to recharge and reflect. Short team mindfulness exercises of deep breathing and being present in the moment can help. Studies have found that mindfulness increases positive emotions while reducing negative emotions and stress.

Treat mental health as you would any health condition

People often don’t know how to approach someone who has recently returned from a treatment centre or has admitted to needing support. Avoiding conversation with a colleague, or whispering about the individual, is toxic and alienating. If someone is diagnosed with cancer, diabetes, or depression, have a short conversation, letting them know that you are there for them if they feel like talking and that you are proud of their strength and respect their professional skills.

If you are unsure about how to approach someone, speak with your HR leader who should be equipped with more information and able to provide more details on what the employee has shared regarding what is helpful.

If we want to leverage the talents and abilities of an individual, we must also consider the health of the brain, the most complex part of the body and the most misunderstood.

Making mental health a constant workplace conversation throughout the year will improve the culture, productivity, and the overall wellness of a company.

Let’s truly be thought leaders.

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