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Mental Health Awareness Week: Be part of the solution, not the problem

As I have said before and will again, and again: Ensure that your workplace is not part of the problem, and recognize mental health as an issue that is intrinsic to having a safe and healthy workplace.

As health and safety professionals you are central to providing leadership in your organization, and assisting CEOs and executives in creating a culture of health and safety inclusion in the workplace. 

It is time to create a new mental map for health and safety. As health and safety professionals you are in a position to be the change agent. It is critical to meet the increasing challenges of a growing and developing workforce, in a time of tough job market competition and greater scrutiny by customers and communities.

Many of you are doing just this — developing relationships in the workplace that help reduce and eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness through awareness and education. 

Key is developing relationships across the organization that ensures the conversations around mental health can take place in a safe and positive way. Working with joint health and safety committees is a good place to start at the worker level. Creating awareness, providing skill development opportunities and working with supervisors, managers and executives to advise them of the business case — from a moral, social and economic perspective — are also some of the things safety managers can do to increase the profile of mental health in the workplace.

In her book, Leadership and the New Science, Margaret Wheatley said, “In organizations, real power and energy is generated through relationships. The patterns of relationships and the capacities to form them are more important than tasks, functions, roles and position.”

There are specific things that can be done in the workplace to address mental health: developing the vision, goals, actions and assessment. 

Where do you want to be? What do you need to do to get there? And how will you know if what you are doing is moving you toward your vision?

Here are some steps your organization can take:

• Inculcate mental health into your health and safety policy

• Take the opportunity to raise awareness in your workplace by offering education activities. Bring in a speaker from a local organization such as the local Mental Health Association, local health unit, Excellence Canada, Great West Centre for Mental Health, Centre for Mental Health and Addiction, Mood Disorders Canada and Mental Health Commission. Some safety associations, such as the Workplace Safety and Prevention Services in Ontario, also offer information around mental health in the workplace.

• In general, workplaces provide first aid as a basic element of a workplace safety program. It is time to provide mental health first aid. The Mental Health Commission of Canada has developed a Mental Health First Aid program available in major communities across Canada

• Become familiar with and promote the elements of a healthy workplace, organizational culture (leadership), physical work environment and personal health resources

• Conduct an assessment of your organization. Use available resources such as the Guarding Minds At Work, a set of tools that includes assessment, a survey, implementation and evaluation tools.

• Provide training and education for supervisors and managers. In the past, there were little resources available for organizations, but today, we are seeing more quality tools and training around mental health in the workplace. A good source is the Great West Life Centre for Mental Health. The Mental Health Commission of Canada also provides a number of tools and guides for leaders and for planning your strategy. Lots of good resources are available and many of them are free.

What are you going to do this Mental Health Week? 

If you are already doing something, do one more thing. Share with others. If you have not yet started, make a start. It can be small: send out an email to all your colleagues; post a news article on the bulletin board; raise mental health at a management meeting and at a joint health and safety committee meeting.

Just beginning the conversation will make a difference. 

It is the right thing to do to create safe work environments for our workers, and for the one in five of us who suffer from some form of mental disorder each year, thank you for making that start.

Some useful resources:

Maureen Shaw

Maureen Shaw is the former president and CEO of the Industrial Accident Prevention Association (now amalgamated into the Workplace Safety and Prevention Services). She spent over 14 years as leader of the IAPA, transforming it from a traditional safety training organization to one that approaches workplaces as psychologically safe and healthy places for people and business to be prosperous. Maureen holds key positions in several national organizations, including the Mental Health Commission of Canada where she is a member of the advisory committee on workforce mental health.
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