Reprinted from "Workplaces" issue of Visions Journal, 2009, 5 (3), p. 31
In 2001, the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Mental Health and Addiction1 approached the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) in Ontario. The Roundtable wanted to address the issue of workplace mental health. Mental Health Works developed over the next two years and was piloted in Ontario in 2003.
Mental Health Works is an education and training initiative that is now available across Canada, with services provided in both English and French. CMHA has offered its services in BC since 2005.
Our mission is “improving working lives.”
Over 2,000 people—in workplaces from Bella Coola to Victoria, Vancouver to Prince George and even Whitehorse—have participated in over 100 workshops in workplace mental health.
What we do
We improve working lives by helping people in the workplace to assist individual employees who have mental health issues. We also address organizational issues that affect overall workplace mental health.
What began with the creation of a single workshop has expanded into a program to improve understanding, develop skills and increase awareness through:
nine distinct workshops, ranging from one hour to a full day, aimed at a various audiences, including supervisors, managers, senior executives, small business owners, human resources, occupational health, union reps and employees
customized talks, including keynote addresses, for annual general meetings, association events, conferences, etc.
interventions for situations where an individual is returning or staying at work and mental health is a factor, as well as situations of workplace conflict or unrest
consulting services for organizations who wish to train their own staff to provide workplace mental health training or awareness initiatives
The program uses multimedia approaches, including a website, publications, a self-study CD, training videos as part of the workshops and presentations, online audio clips and an e-newsletter.
Our trainers all have real-life experience in management and all are Mental Health Works certified to deliver our workshops and presentations.
Management training: from recognition to accommodation
Mental Health Works recognizes that the day-to-day interaction with employees who may be struggling rests with the front-line supervisors. These individuals rarely have the experience or knowledge to feel comfortable in this role.
Through practical training, supervisors learn to recognize when an employee might be experiencing a mental health issue. They learn how to tell a mental health issue from a performance issue or a negative attitude. And they learn skills to improve their effectiveness and comfort level when approaching staff and members who appear to be struggling. From here they learn strategies to help employees remain productive in the workplace and/or to access resources that assist in their recovery.
Workshop participants such as supervisors, managers, union reps and human resources staff practise strategies and approaches that assist them to more effectively:
help employees resolve conflict
improve or maintain employee performance
create accommodations that enable an employee to stay at work or successfully return to work
Employee training: from awareness to self-care and response
The workshops and presentations aimed at employees help to increase awareness of what workplace mental health problems may look like. This helps individuals recognize when they themselves may be struggling or when a co-worker may be experiencing symptoms.
Trainers talk honestly about common fears, concerns, myths and stereotypes involving co-workers with mental health issues. Participants learn how to address fears or concerns and how to respond if a co-worker is struggling. They learn how to choose healthier ways to deal with their own workplace and life stressors and how to influence the stress of others. We use videos of real people who share their experiences and offer practical solutions.
Some recent initiatives and upcoming resources
Currently, Mental Health Works is offering a special workshop through Chambers of Commerce, boards of trade and other business, trade and professional associations. It’s called Issues & Solutions and is aimed at small- to medium-sized business owners across the country. Business owners are provided with practical ways to identify and work with employees who are in emotional distress.
This one-and-a-half to two-hour session is endorsed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC). The initiative supports MHCC’s desire to reach smaller employers across Canada who normally don’t access this specialized information due to limited time or resources.
The Surrey Board of Trade held one of these sessions in December 2008. Managers from firms in biotech, hospitality, insurance and other sectors found it practical and relevant to their work. Similar presentations are already booked for Whistler, Prince George, Vancouver and Sechelt in 2009.
Mental Health Works has also developed a workshop for joint health, safety and wellness committees. (These committees consist of labour and management representatives who meet on a regular basis to deal with health and safety issues.) This workshop is designed to help committee members include mental health or psychological safety considerations in their work.
We have also begun to create a video-based resource by and for workers with mental health concerns. Those who appear on this resource will be workers who have been unwell and have successfully navigated workplace issues, including disability leave, conflict and fear of job loss. The resource will be available at no charge through the www.gwlcentreformentalhealth.com website in late fall. It will also be available as a DVD through Mental Health Works (www.mentalhealthworks.ca) and their partner on this project, the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario (www.mooddisorders.on.ca).
Keeping workers healthy helps the bottom line
In this time of economic instability, more employees will experience distress about finances, job uncertainty and other issues. More than ever, employers can benefit from investing in helping employees stay engaged and mentally healthy at work.
For a small investment, workplaces have the potential to make sure that those in management and union positions are able to create and sustain a mentally healthy work environment. Not surprisingly, “improving working lives” also improves the bottom line.
About the author
Mary Ann is the Director of Mental Health Works.
Margaret is the Manager of Mental Health Works for the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division.
- Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Mental Health and Addiction: www.mentalhealthroundtable.ca.