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Mental Health in the Workplace

I recently wrote a BLOG for my other place of employment: The BC Government, so I thought I would share it with you.

Mental health in the workplace has been an emerging trend toward discussing the topic more freely than ever before. Having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder for the past 10 years, I have experienced both stigma and compassion in the workplace, which partially led me into the non-profit work that I do today. Currently, I facilitate support groups for people affected by a mental health condition and conduct presentations on my personal story in the schools to youth, community organizations and in the workplace. Why do I do this work? I feel it is so important that we approach mental health in an open manner leading us to have conversations free of stigma. Ideally, we ought to live in a world where an employee is not ashamed to disclose the fact that they have a mental illness. It is vital to be able to acknowledge it, because, as I have personally found, it can negatively affect my work, attendance, and even my behavior. Over the years I have had to advocate for myself and now I have an accommodating and positive work environment. This is by no means an easy task because the fear of disclosing remains daunting; however, if my mental health condition is not supported by my employer, then I would simply not want to be employed with their organization.

There are some positive and exciting developments that are taking place for mental health in the workplace, such as the recent Not Myself Today campaign that is supported by partners for mental health in BC. The idea is to wear a badge in the workplace about how you are feeling. Maybe you’re feeling okay – or maybe you’re not yourself today. They propose that the more open we are about how we feel, the more we create a culture of acceptance and support for mental health.

There have been some amazing strides taking place in the private sector that perhaps our government employer could learn from. For instance, Deloitte has installed a black dog statue at its London office as a symbol of commitment to support the mental health and well-being of staff via the Black Dog campaign. The company also has a group of mental health champions who have been trained to have a conversation with an employee who feels that he or she may have a mental illness. This approach is brilliant! Having to face the black dog every day at work reminds employees to be cognizant of their mental health in the workplace and to talk about it!

You may have heard of the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), and wondered what it does? The MHCC has led the development of a voluntary National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the workplace and developed recommendations to support increased employment among people living with a mental health problem and illness. It released an action guide to help employers improve the psychological health of their organization and provided guidelines that encourage executive leadership to commit to making mental health in their workplace a priority.

I am hopeful that all employees in our government workplace will encourage this type of mental health action and awareness. Don’t be afraid to say how you are really feeling or to be understanding of the person who may be struggling with a mental health condition. Everybody wants to know that their fellow co-workers care about their mental health. If someone is absent for suspected mental health reasons, don’t tip toe around them, but instead ask them how they are doing upon their return and express your openness as a fellow co-worker that you are willing to listen. When you break the silence, it is more likely that the situation won’t become stigmatized.

What are you doing to create a workplace of empathy and acceptance for all employees and yourself in the workplace? Or what do you think should be done?