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Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

Healthy Workplaces - Healthy People

Fraser Health's recent focus on mental health

Elayne Preston and Rosemary Nemanishen

Reprinted from "Workplaces" issue of Visions Journal, 2009, 5 (3), p. 25

Since 2002, the Fraser Health (FH) Workplace Health Team has focused on making sure we have healthy employees who are safe at work. Our Occupational Health Nurse (OHN) Team and our Disability Management Team both help employees off work due to injury or illness to return to work.

We’ve had many ways of helping people with physical problems, such as back or repetitive strain injuries and illnesses such as multiple sclerosis or heart disease. For employees who were having trouble with their mental health, we’ve had an Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP), but not much else . . . However, we were getting information from our long-term disability benefits provider that about 35% of the people in health care who are receiving these benefits have depression as a diagnosis.1

In 2005, Workplace Health decided to pay more attention to mental health issues. We talked with our union partners to get started. We talked with other employers and health authorities to find out what they were doing to support their employees’ mental health. And we started working with our benefits provider to figure out ways to help.

Piloting mental health initiatives

In October 2006, we were chosen by our benefits provider Healthcare Benefit Trust (HBT) to be part of a one-year pilot project. A hospital site in Abbotsford worked with™, a Web-based assessment tool developed by Mensante Corporation, a group of Canadian and American psychiatrists.

Employees can log on to website, create their own user name and password (to maintain their confidentiality), and do an assessment of their own mental health. If the person is at risk for a mental illness (based on how they answered the questions), they can print out a letter to take to their doctor. The program also provides other information about the best treatment for their illness. Our pilot project was very successful and we are now starting to make it available at some other FH sites.

In September 2008, we started another pilot project with HBT. This three-month project has given a selected number of managers within FH access to an online manual, Mental Health Resource Guide for Managers. This guide was developed by Healthcare Benefit Trust and by Dr. Merv Gilbert, an organizational health psychologist based in Vancouver.

The guide has information on what managers need to know about mental illness and how it can affect their employees at work. It gives managers ideas about how to talk with their employees they have concerns about. It also gives ideas about how to help employees, who are off work because of mental illness, successfully return to work. We are now looking at rolling its use out right across Fraser Health.

On our Workplace Health intranet site (i.e., a private website available only to FH personnel), we have created an “Employee Health and Wellness” page that has links to helpful resources. Employees can find and print out information such as self-help workbooks and wellness brochures, as well as information on how to bring laughter, yoga and massage to their workplace.

We have also taken part in a research study by the Occupational Health and Safety Agency for Healthcare (OHSAH) in British Columbia to. This five-year study, which began in the spring of 2005, is looking at how to improve the mental health of nurses, practical nurses and unit clerks on some of our hospital units.

Eleven units were chosen randomly across FH; five had interventions and six were control groups. Our OHNs were trained to work with employee groups on the units. Each intervention unit was given $4,000 to spend on things that would make their workplace better. (Control groups weren’t given any funds.) Some units chose to improve their staff rooms. Others chose to get vests with logos indicating the unit they worked on. Some chose to have lunches or a BBQ.

Employees on the units were surveyed before intervention and again after their projects were completed (in September 2008) to see whether their choices made a difference for them. We’re still in the process of evaluating the September survey results, and there will be another follow-up survey in September 2009.

And, we are just about to embark on our newest, most exciting project yet. Our OHNs will take on a new role as health coaches for our employees. Coaching recognizes that people are all different. Referral criteria for health coaching are still being finalized, but employees can self-refer.

The OHNs will be available to work with individual employees or with groups. They’ll help our employees set their own health goals, name their strengths and identify what might stop them from reaching those goals. They’ll support employees in meeting their health goals, whether the goals are about their physical or mental health, and will provide information and education when necessary. The OHNs will get to know the employees—and assist them to be the healthy people we believe our employees want to be.

About the authors

Elayne is a Managing Consultant, Health and Wellness, within Workplace Health at Fraser Health. Fraser Health covers the Lower Mainland from Burnaby to Boston Bar and has 23,000 employees

Rosemary is a Mental Health and Wellness Consultant in Workplace Health at Fraser Health

  1. Bilsker, D., Gilbert, M., Myette, L. et al. (2004). Depression and work function: Bridging the gap between mental health care and the workplace. Vancouver: Mental Health Evaluation and Community Consultation Unit, University of British Columbia.


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