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Change-making mental health conversations: 9 tactics for encouraging frank, open talk

Open conversation

Ever try talking to someone who doesn't want to listen? You can't force conversation. However, you can create an environment in which positive, solutions-focused conversations occur, whether planned or spontaneous.

"For people to feel safe talking about mental health," says WSPS consultant Krista Schmid, "everyone has a part to play."

Mental health is a sensitive topic, so why stir the pot? "It's a business imperative," says Krista. "Diagnosed and undiagnosed mental health issues cost the Canadian economy $51 billion a year in mental health services, lost productivity, and reduced quality of life. But if no one's talking, you can't even begin to control these financial and emotional costs."

Krista offers nine suggestions to jumpstart conversations.

  1. Start with your leadership team. At the next team meeting, begin answering 20 Questions for Leaders About Workplace Psychological Health and Safety.* It will help your leadership team understand what’s at stake, lay the groundwork for creating a mentally healthy environment, and demonstrate their commitment to employee mental health and well-being.
  2. Conduct a perception survey to understand how much people know about mental health, and how they feel about the mental health climate at work. The results can help you see where your workplace is doing well and where it can improve. It can also help establish baselines, demonstrate commitment, and set goals.
  3. Create and implement a respect in the workplace policy. Bring people from various departments together to draft the policy, ensuring broad representation and building interest among their workmates.
  4. Increase everyone's understanding of mental health. If this is the first time that mental health is being openly discussed at work, start by reducing stigma. Share information on what mental illness is and isn't. Then bring in people to talk about mental health resources. Include your EAP provider and someone from the local public health unit or branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
  5. Add mental health topics to meeting agendas at all levels of the organization, from the leadership team down to the joint health and safety committee.
  6. Arrange for mental health first aid training. Explain to all employees what it’s for and how it works, and who their mental health first aiders are. They're just like physical first aiders, providing immediate triage support in times of crisis or as mental health issues emerge. While this course does not replace professional mental health care, it does give participants tools and resources to assist with mental health problems.
  7. Add mental health as a joint health and safety committee priority for inspections, incident investigations, and even casual conversations. It's about understanding people better. "How are you doing? How's work going?"
  8. Make it visible. Post information updates, news and resources on the health and safety board, the company Intranet, and other communication vehicles.
  9. Walk the talk. Engage the people around you in conversation. Use language with care, demonstrate empathy, and be kind. Encourage conversations about mental health and exercise emotional intelligence.

How WSPS can help

  • Learn more about mental health and the workplace at WSPS' online mental health resource page. Among the resources: e-courses, complementary downloads, articles, and videos.
  • Sign up for Mental Health First Aid, a 2-day course available onsite or in a classroom setting.
  • Talk to a consultant about opportunities to develop a planned, target-driven approach to creating a healthy workplace, including implementing CSA Z1003, Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. Contact Customer Care: 1-877-494-WSPS (9777);

* The perception survey is just one of many free resources available at Workplace Strategies for Mental Health, an initiative of the Great West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace. Other websites with useful resources include the Mental Health Commission of Canada.