Make Mental Health Awareness Week your starting point for a healthier, more productive workplace

Apr 03, 2014

May 2014Since stigma is often the greatest barrier to seeking or offering help with mental health problems, make May 5-11, the Canadian Mental Health Association's 63rd Mental Health Awareness Week, your first step in promoting stigma-busting conversations at work.

"It doesn't have to be complicated," says Andrew Harkness, a WSPS key account manager - OHSW Management Systems. "It just has to be a start."

The World Health Organization defines mental health as a state of well-being in which individuals realize their own abilities, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively, and are able to make a contribution to their community. This describes many of us most of the time. But not all. The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) reports that

  • 1 in 5 Canadians experience a mental health problem every year
  • 35 million work days are lost annually due to mental health problems
  • these problems and illnesses account for 30% of disability claims and 70% of their total costs.

Harkness suggests a number of ways in which you can encourage workplace discussions during the week and afterward.

Initiating conversations during the week

On the first morning, distribute a quick-read fact sheet with information, tips and resources. During the week:

  • organize a lunch-and-learn. Ask your local Canadian Mental Health Association branch to provide or recommend a speaker.

  • track the daily progress of Clara's Big Ride, including her route, journal entries and trip updates as Olympic medalist Clara Hughes cycles across Canada in support of mental health. Share with co-workers Clara's own experience with depression.

  • use a quick 7-question quiz to start a discussion with supervisors and managers about workplace mental health. This and other resources are available free of charge from Workplace Strategies for Mental Health, created by the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace to provide employers with free information, strategies, tools, and initiatives.

  • schedule a read through of the CSA/BNQ standard Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace with your JHSC. The standard contains systematic guidelines to help workplaces create and sustain a psychologically safe and healthy work environment. Downloadable at no cost.

"Each of these suggestions can help a workplace crystallize where it is and start thinking about where it would like to be," says Harkness.

Sustaining conversations

These suggestions can help you maintain awareness and build momentum.

  • Attend Partners in Prevention Health & Safety Conference Trade Show, April 29-30 in Mississauga, to find out what others are doing and what resources are available. See a sample list of sessions below.
  • Conduct a structured dialogue with senior management using 20 Questions for Leaders About Workplace Psychological Health and Safety. Also available: 20 questions for unions.
  • Implement a mental health first aid program. Like traditional first aid, this MHCC program enables people to recognize symptoms and provide support until professional help can step in.
  • Establish a code of ethics based on the values in your business's mission statement.
  • Adopt the Canadian Human Rights Commission's human rights model, a proactive business management tool.
  • Share your workplace journey. MCHH invites workplaces to become leaders by showcasing their journey.

Partners in Prevention sessions

"Every year the number of sessions on mental health at work grows," says Andrew Harkness, "and it's driven by demand. The key piece for delegates today is how to move forward: 'What can I do about it? If I'm the catalyst in my workplace, how can I create movement?'"

These sessions can provide information and impetus:

  • Burst your Bubble - Implementing a Mental Health Program
  • Do No Harm: Preventing Psychological Injury at Work
  • New Horizons in Health and Safety: the Psychologically Healthy and Safe Workplace
  • Psychological Health & Safety in the Workplace - Navigating for Successful implementation (professional development course)
  • Psychology and Safety: Why Is OHS 50 Years Behind?
  • Supervisors Forum: Managing Mental Health in the Workplace

Find out more

Visit Partners in Prevention 2014 Health & Safety Conference & Trade Show, for event details, including a preliminary program.