8 tips on holding a mental health lunch 'n learn

Jul 29, 2016

Mental health lunch and learnThe introduction of CSA Z1003-Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace in 2013 sent a signal to employers that Canada is taking mental health at work seriously, says WSPS consultant Paul Hartford. "It's time to open up the conversation with your employees, work to eliminate stigma, and convey that you too are serious about mental health at work." One great way to do this is through a series of lunch 'n learns - an informal onsite training or awareness-building session offered at a time when most employees are available.

Why lunch n' learns

With 500,000 Canadians off work every day because of mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, etc., and others suffering in silence, you can be sure that this topic will grab attention, says Hartford. By talking openly about mental health, you help fight stigma and position transparency, civility and respect as a cornerstone of your workplace culture.

Since workplace mental health encompasses many topics, it lends itself well to a series of lunch 'n learns (see Topic ideas below). Plus, they'll help you keep this topic front and centre where it needs to be.

Planning your mental health lunch 'n learn

Here are eight tips to guide you.

  1. Develop a schedule. Determine how many lunch 'n learns to hold, when, and how often. Choose a consistent day (e.g., 3rd Thursday of the month) to help employees remember.
  2. Research your topic beforehand or find an expert to speak. Check out WSPS' mental health resources.
  3. Communicate the schedule through benefit-oriented posters, emails, or paycheque inserts, and have supervisors encourage attendance during safety talks or on the day of the event.
  4. Since lunch 'n learns are typically short (45-60 minutes), distill the content "into nuggets", says Hartford. The relaxed setting - the cafeteria, lunchroom, or conference room - also increases employees' ability to retain information.
  5. Make sessions interactive. Use a variety of media and adult teaching principles to involve your audience.
  6. Leave room for questions. If employees seem reluctant to speak up, have them jot their questions on a piece of paper and have someone read the questions aloud.
  7. Provide takeaways. This can be a list of internal or external resources, stress-reduction exercises, a copy of your mental health policy and procedures, a sheet on how to actively listen to someone in distress - whatever ties in with that particular lunch 'n learn session.
  8. Promote your next session. Remind participants about the topic and date for the next lunch ‘n learn.

Mental health topics

Here are eight suggestions on what to talk about:

  • how workplace culture ties in with mental health, and the characteristics you want to engender in your culture - trust, honesty, openness, fairness, civility and respect
  • your workplace's mental health policy and how the organization is putting that policy into practice
  • what mental health is, what risk factors at work exacerbate it, and how your workplace plans to reduce these risk factors
  • what stigma is and how you plan to eliminate it (e.g., through the lunch 'n learns, supervisor training, program development)
  • internal supports (e.g., EAPs, flex hours) for employees with mental health issues, or who may have family members with issues
  • ways for people to manage their stress levels - breathing, exercise, yoga, etc. - with practice time built into the lunch 'n learn
  • how to recognize and respond appropriately to someone in distress, including role-playing
  • community resources, such as local mental health practitioners, organizations, associations, etc.

How we can help

The following are just a few resources available to help. For a full list, including complementary downloads and videos, visit WSPS' mental health resource page.

  • WSPS consultants, who can help you design and deliver your mental health lunch ‘n learns, provide 90-minute onsite awareness sessions, and/or help you develop a workplace policy and procedures based on CSA standard Z1003.
  • Mental Health: Communication Strategies (1 hour e-course)
  • Mental Health First Aid, a 2-day course that teaches employees how to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental disorders, and provide appropriate assistance.

* Take a few minutes to check out these additional online resources: Canadian Mental Health Association, On the Agenda Program at Workplace Strategies for Mental Health, and Guarding Minds @ Work.