Thursday 11 April 2013

"How Do You Know?"

“When you're surrounded by all these people, it can be lonelier than when you're by yourself. You can be in a huge crowd, but if you don't feel like you can trust anyone or talk to anybody, you feel like you're really alone.”  ~ Fiona Apple
The person who sits at the desk next to you might be one. Your boss might be one. The colleague with whom you worked on that six month project could be one, too. Or maybe you are.

One what? The one in five Canadians who will experience mental illness in their lifetime.
That's a pretty big number - one in five. That means that out of the 60 people that I work with, 12 of them will go through this. At my office, I am the only one who is "out" - the only one who talks openly about my experiences with depression. But I know who those other 11 people are. I know because they confided in me. One by one, they shared their story with me.
I am grateful for that for a few reasons. First of all, it has made me feel less alone. I know that I have a built in support group at work when I need it. It's not just my work friends who are there for me but also this community of people who actually know what depression, anxiety, and mental illness are like. I am also grateful that I can perhaps provide some comfort to others who are experiencing depression or anxiety for the first time. There really is comfort in numbers.
But here's the thing. This community is a secret one.I am pretty sure that I am the only one who knows who the members are. And even at that, there are probably a few members who haven't "joined" yet - they are still keeping this to themselves.

So how do we create an environment in the workplace that makes people feel safe about disclosing their illness?

First things first - let's create psychologically healthy work environments. Most of us are familiar with the idea of occupational health and safety, right? We know how to exit the building in case of fire. We know where the first aid kit is kept and who to call in case of an emergency. We know not to stack boxes in front of an emergency exit. What we don't know is how to create a workplace that is healthy for our minds.

In early 2013 the Canadian government issued the Standard on Psychologically Healthy Workplaces. The first country to do so. It's a voluntary standard and as it is early days it remains to be seen how many organizations get on board with this revolutionary concept. And yes, it really is revolutionary.

I recently attended the Canadian Mental Health Association's Bottom Line Conference on workplace mental health. Something that really stuck with me were the words of one of the speakers, Mary Ann Baynton. I will paraphrase,"The new Standard on psychologically healthy workplaces is to depression what the occupational health and safety standards are to arthritis." In short, the standard isn't about preventing disease - it's about creating healthy, safe work environments overall.

The reason why that resonated with me so strongly is because employers seem to immediately go to the extreme when contemplating the impact of mental illness in the workplace. "Oh, accommodation is expensive - it will impact our bottom line.""It's too expensive to implement mental health programs." And on, and on. So many excuses why we can't do this.

I say, let's take a step back. Start small and take a preventative approach. Creating a positive work environment is actually really simple - it's about building good leaders. If you are a manager, ask yourself these questions:
* Do I say good morning to my employees?
* Do I thank them at the end of the day for the contributions that they made?
* Do I make time to meet with each employee on a one on one basis to discuss career goals?
* Do I support my people to do their best work?
* Do I listen (really listen) to my employee's concerns and suggestions?
* Do I consciously work to create a trusting, collaborative environment amongst my team?

Starting in May and running through June, Partners For Mental Health will be running a mental health in the workplace campaign called Not Myself Today - At Work. We will have many tools and resources (free!). There will also be a fundraising element in which the money raised will benefit both PFMH and the Canadian Mental Health Association. If you would like to get your company involved, please visit the website here:

It's not rocket science. It really isn't. And until we create psychologically healthy work environments, that club that I belong to, the top secret one that is in every single Canadian company, will remain silent and secretive. The cost of that silence? Try $51 billion dollars to the Canadian economy. And the human cost? Impossible to express.

KB xo

P.S. One of my favourite resources on mental health issues is the Canadian Mental Health Association: In addition to fabulous online resources they also have local chapters throughout Canada. You can visit them in person or follow them on facebook and Twitter. There is no need to be alone - there is a community out there to support you!

No comments:

Post a Comment

"Eating Disorders: What Are We Truly Hungry For?"

    For two years in my 30's I had an eating disorder: bulimia. It took me ten years to admit that to anyone, even my doctor. I f...