As a teen raised in northern Ontario, I always thought that being able to identify someone struggling with mental health would be easy. I pictured someone who appeared and behaved differently than someone who was “normal.” Admittedly, I wrongly thought mental health had a distinct “look” and that it would be obvious to identify. I would soon be reminded of my ignorance and face a situation that would forever change my perspective on who and what mental health looks like.
Of serious concern is the fact that anywhere between 30% and 80% of individuals who require assistance with their mental health simply don’t reach out (according to the World Health Organization). There are several reasons someone may be hesitant to ask for help, but stigma and discrimination fall high on this list, and lead to negative health and social outcomes for those affected.
And though we are gaining traction, the truth is, many people don’t know how to respond when we are concerned about a co-worker’s mental wellbeing. We worry about saying the wrong thing and have the perception that those in need want to be left alone to cope. These myths act as barriers to helping those we care about.
Making the case
Mental health affects every workplace in Canada. As adults, we spend most of our waking hours at work. This environment can either have a positive or negative contribution to our mental health.
Both employers and employees benefit from a psychologically healthy workplace. Employers who adopt mental health programs achieve better outcomes with improvements in engagement, morale, productivity and employee satisfaction while minimizing the impact on absenteeism, presenteeism, long-term leaves of absence and workplace injuries.
Organizations often tout “people” as their most important asset, which means they should be addressing their most relevant workplace concern. At work more than anywhere else, addressing issues of mental health is vitally important. Seventy per cent of Canadian employees are concerned about the psychological health of their workplace, and 14% don’t think theirs is healthy at all. Such workplaces can take a detrimental personal toll as well as contribute to the staggering economic costs of mental health in our country.
These are reasons that provide incentive for leaders in organizations to act and implement strategic adjustments on how they would like to approach mental health at work. Even small changes can make a big difference to your workplace while reducing the impact on social services by making publicly funded mental health resources available to those who need it most. Re-allocating resources to more preventative actions will help your organization improve its approach to mental wellbeing and minimize challenges, such as stigma, that remain the most relevant barrier in addressing mental health. Your organization likely offer numerous options to help employees and their families manage the initial and ongoing phases of dealing with a mental health challenge. If not, a conscious effort to leverage these services and regularly communicate the scope of what is available to your teams can encourage someone who is struggling to reach out for help. The more we talk about mental health, the more our people will feel comforted in knowing “it’s OK not to be OK,” and that help is available.
A brighter outlook
Since 2016, DMC Mining Services has made mental health its strategic health priority. Under the leadership of DMC’s vice-president of health and safety, we measured the necessary data to demonstrate the impact mental health had on our people and those who worked around them. We were not intimidated by the challenge and see that the benefits of implementing strategies to support mental health are far, long lasting and real. We ourselves have experienced the challenges faced when workers had hit rock bottom and made a promise to leave every door open for our employees to receive timely access to the support they needed. We achieved a greater sense of empathy from our workforce, supervisors and other personnel who noticed signs of trouble and would quietly connect to our dedicated resource, who would then promptly reach out to help put a plan in place. Those who benefited from this support often became advocates for the program, transforming workplace culture from the inside.
We learned that the journey didn’t have to be difficult, costly and time intensive. We focused on providing our groups with tools, such as awareness sessions and mental health first aid, and encouraged an open and honest dialogue around mental health. The topic proved to be of interest to almost all of our colleagues; probably because we are all somehow connected to mental health.
Though we’ve come a long way and I am proud of our progress, we are only really beginning this journey. The evidence is clear; not unlike other heath conditions, early intervention is key. The sooner someone understands they need help and are connected to the right support system, outcomes improve significantly.
According to the World Health Organization, most of the world’s population (58%) spend one-third of their adult life at work trying to provide meaningful contributions while attempting to provide their families a good quality of life. Why shouldn’t this time be spent in a healthy environment that enables us to reach our full potential? Mining has a proud tradition of workplace safety and support, one where people look out for one another, making it a natural fit for mental health, which requires the same courage and compassion.
I’ve heard comparisons of mental health to a game of hide-and- seek; those who struggle being the ones who are always so difficult to find. Though that’s partly true, I think we can all learn to be courageous enough to look in those harder to find spots, thus become better at “finding” them. To my friend Matt, and everyone else who has lost their journey to mental health, you will not be forgotten. To those of you who are fighting, you are not alone, you are important. Don’t give up, and believe you are capable of living a long and healthy life.
Remember, there is no health without mental health.
DON LANGLOIS is manager of occupational health, hygiene and CSR at DMC Mining Services. He can be reached at email@example.com.