Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Student Budgeting Tips to Keep Your Mind off the Money

We’re well into the first month of school! Hopefully you have made a positive adjustment to the school year and your studies are going well thus far. At this time for some students, they may feel stressed about their personal finances. Even with the increasing number of government rebates and grants, post-secondary education isn’t cheap, and for some students, it is their first year of managing a budget on their own. As a student, it’s important you learn how to properly manage your student budget so that it lasts you all year long, and you can focus on what matters most – succeeding in your studies.

With that in mind, here are some simple budgeting tips I recommend so you can spend less time worrying about money and more time focusing on your academics and general well-being:

Download Finance Apps

Since most of us have our cellphones at our disposal whenever we need, you may want to consider using a finance app to track your daily purchases and spending.

Here are just a few of the dozens (if not hundreds) of mobile finance apps available and how they can help you build and stick to a budget:

  • MintMint allows you to bring all of your banking and credit card transactions into one password-protected space. You can easily set up budgets within the app and categorize your transactions, and Mint even sends you notifications when your bills are due or if you’re overspending.
  • WallyWally is particularly useful if you’re an international student, as it is one of few finance apps that allows users to document and create budgets with any form of currency.
  • You Need a Budget – If you don’t mind investing in a paid app, You Need a Budget links all of your accounts, helps you create personalized debt repayment plans, and hosts live financial planning workshops.

Use Budgeting Templates

A quick Google search will reveal hundreds of free budgeting templates to help you organize your income and expenses. If you’re unsure which to trust, consider using one offered by your financial institution; many banks, including TD Canada Trust, CIBC, RBC, and Scotiabank, offer online budget calculators. If you are new to Canada or if your bank doesn’t provide an online budgeting tool, the Government of Canada has also created a helpful student budget worksheet.

Buy Used Items

Many universities and colleges have bookstores on campus where students can sell textbooks they no longer need or buy used textbooks at a fraction of their original cost. I’ve also seen many Facebook groups where students gather to buy, sell, or trade textbooks, clothing, furniture, and electronics. If you can’t find a community social media group for your university or college, consider starting one yourself!

 

If you are in need of free and confidential financial advice, you can call your Student Assistance Program (SAP) 24/7 at 1-877-234-5327 (toll-free) to receive the personal financial counselling you need either by telephone or in-person. Stay well!

 

 

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Suicide Prevention Day Spotlight: Bipolar Disorder in the Workplace

pexels-photo-313690In light of World Suicide Prevention Day having just passed on September 10, I have been reflecting on the complexities of varying mental health states and the numerous, unfortunate factors that might drive someone to consider suicide as their only option.

Seeing as bipolar disorder, among other personality disorders, can be difficult to diagnose, and those with bipolar disorder are two to three times more likely to commit suicide, I would like to highlight what you can do to help someone dealing with this mental heath concern. But before I dive into that, I would like to discuss what exactly bipolar disorder is and what are its causes.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder causes significant, unexpected mood swings that can last anywhere between a few days and several months. The “bi” in bipolar refers to the two types of episodes those with the disorder typically experience: manic and depressive. During a manic episode, a person may seem uncharacteristically happy or energetic, to the point of being impulsive. I have seen this impulsivity sometimes reach dangerous levels. Depressive episodes are often recognized by the same symptoms as clinical depression.

What Causes Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder can develop when there is an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. This imbalance is typically present at birth, making the disorder genetic. However, having a family member with bipolar disorder does not necessarily mean you will have the disorder as well. I’ve recognized that environmental factors, such as trauma, extreme stress, or severe illness, are often linked to trigger those with a genetic disposition for the disorder.

What Are the Signs of Bipolar Disorder?

Someone experiencing a manic episode may have any of the following symptoms:

  • Increased physical energy
  • Irritability
  • Hastened speech
  • Impulsive behaviour
  • Delusions

Someone experiencing a depressive episode may have any of the following symptoms:

  • Guilt
  • Sadness
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of motivation

If someone regularly experiences mood swings between what appear to be manic and depressive episodes, they may have bipolar disorder.

How Can You Support an Employee with Bipolar Disorder?

When I’ve met with employees with untreated bipolar disorder, they’ve expressed experiencing certain difficulties at work: irritability can cause friction between coworkers, impulsive behaviour may lead to unexplained missed days, and a lack of motivation can result in decreased productivity.

As a start to supporting an employee with bipolar disorder, it is important to have symptoms professionally assessed. Too often, and especially with such ease of information (and misinformation) on the internet, more and more people are self-diagnosing, which is an extremely dangerous practice because neither you nor your employees are medical doctors trained in psychiatric disorders.

Once professionally diagnosed, bipolar disorder is highly treatable with medication and therapy. If you observe that one of your employees is having difficulty managing the symptoms of bipolar disorder (or any possible mental health disorder), you can contact your EAP provider and request a management consultation with an expert to discuss your concern about the employee’s mental health and how to approach them for support and to make recommendations regarding treatment. Training is also available through your EAP for your supervisors and managers to help them identify mental health symptoms and refer their employees for assessment and treatment.


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How to Regain Your Passion for Education

book-841171_1920 (1)With the new school year just around the corner, you may fall into one of two categories: you’re either excited to return to campus to get back to your studies and/or see your friends, or you’re dreading having to get back to the books. If you fall into the latter category, this blog is for you. It’s important to remember that completing post-secondary education allows you to increase your potential earnings and, above all, pursue your dreams.

Here are some methods I suggest you try to motivate yourself to return to school:

Document Small Goals

Take a moment to write down your goals, both academic and professional. A three- or four-year degree can feel like an incredibly long time. Rather than be overwhelmed by the length of time required to complete your education, I advise you to take it one step at a time. What are your academic goals for this month, this week, or even just today? With every task you complete, no matter how small, you earn a sense of accomplishment that urges you to continue.

Once you’ve written down your goals, consider framing them and hanging them over your desk. This way, if you ever feel yourself lacking the motivation to continue your education, you can easily look up to remind yourself of your academic purpose.

 

Get Involved

You should look for opportunities to balance your schoolwork and social life. If you are a first-year student, get to know your campus and the clubs and sports it offers. If you don’t find a club that interests you, start your own! These are great ways to make new friends and feel like a part of the school community.

Whether you are a first-year student or not, consider building your resume with more than academics. Does your program offer internship or co-op opportunities? You could also look for an internship or part-time job in your field on your own or give back to your community by volunteering with an association that matters to you. The important thing is that you have an outlet to help with the stress associated with a heavy semester and exams.

 

Be Realistic

Has it crossed your mind that perhaps the program you’re in isn’t for you? If so, my advice would be to treat this new school year as a clean slate. You still have the option to switch your major or specialization or enrol in a smaller course load. It’s better to delay graduation by a semester or two pursuing a different or part-time academic path than it is to spend years completing a degree that no longer interests you.

If you need a little extra help rekindling your passion for your program, I encourage you to contact your Student Assistance Provider. They can help you find a balance between your personal and academic life, sort out potential financial concerns, discuss anxieties, and much more.


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Increasing Employee Morale with Vitamin D

adult-beard-beverage-590516Now that summer is more than halfway over, have you noticed any of your staff longingly looking outside their windows, wishing they could have some time in the sun? When I think of sunshine, I think of warmth and the beach, but there is also a biological need for natural sunlight: vitamin D.

Vitamin D serves many biological purposes, both physically and mentally:

Physically: Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium to maintain or improve your bone health. It also strengthens your muscles to improve your balance.

Mentally: Vitamin D has been known to affect the brain’s serotonin levels, which help regulate our emotions.

Vitamin D levels among Canadians are particularly concerning. Our northern geography means that we have fewer sunrays hitting us to promote our bodies’ ability to produce vitamin D. As a result, an average of 32% of Canadians are considered to be low on vitamin D. What is startling is that even during the summer, 25% of us are low on this essential nutrient.

Because there is such a strong link between depression and a lack of vitamin D, you may not be shocked to discover that 17%-18% of Canadians experience some form of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) at some point in their life. SAD is a type of depression that typically affects people with little access to natural sunlight. It is most common during the winter months, but has been known to occur during the summer as well.

If you work in an industry that requires your staff to be indoors most days, it is possible that a large number of your employees may suffer the physical or mental side effects of low vitamin D levels. Seeing as we only need 10-15 minutes of sunshine three times a week to get the amount of vitamin D we need, here is what I would suggest to allow your employees more time outdoors:

 

Create an Outdoor Eating Space

If your workplace has any available lawn or patio space, consider investing in a couple picnic tables that your employees can access during their breaks. They don’t have to use the space if they don’t want to, but I’m sure some would appreciate the choice of returning to their desks revitalized by the sun’s warmth.

 

Have Outdoor Meetings

This certainly isn’t a practical option for meetings that require presentation equipment, but it can be a great alternative to boardroom meetings. If you regularly have casual meetings with a small number of employees, a walking meeting is a great way to get the creative juices flowing.

 

Host More Outdoor Events

If you like to keep your employees engaged with regular company outings, consider adding sunshine to the experiences. Picnics, barbecues, and family-fun fairs at a nearby park are excellent options to fill the vitamin D needs of your employees and help remind them that there is more to your company culture than what takes place within your office walls.

The aforementioned suggestions are great places to start to incorporate more vitamin D exposure into the workday. However, a lack of vitamin D is just one of many potential factors that can contribute to depression. If you or your employees are experiencing fluctuations in mood, whether as a result of the weather or anything else, please contact your EAP provider for assistance.


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Getting the Most Out of Your Employee & Student Assistance Programs: A 4-Part Series

adult-american-black-and-white-935870As the founder of Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and Student Assistance Program (SAP) services, I am often surprised to learn that when people hear the words “EAP” and “SAP” the first thing they typically think of is psychological counselling services. You may be surprised to know that there is so much more that these services have to offer.

In fact, it is so important that you understand all the services that are available to you through your EAP or SAP services that I have decided to dedicate a quarterly blog series outlining what we at Aspiria call specialized solutions – additional services that are available through EAPs and SAPs.

To get us started, I have highlighted a few EAP services that greatly improve work environments by benefitting employees and their family:

 

Elder and Child Care

Taking care of a loved one, whether they are an aging parent or a newborn child, can sometimes feel like a full-time job, and unconditional love doesn’t always make the job any easier. What employers can do to make their employees’ home life easier is offer elder and child care services through their EAP.

Elder care speaks to caregivers, seniors, and everyone who is proactively planning for their future. Our EAPs offer information about Canadian systems available to the elderly as well as the essentials regarding housing options. We also educate employees on common physical and mental changes that often develop with age and what they can do to minimize these changes.

For younger employees that are considering starting a family or have already begun that chapter of their lives, Aspiria’s EAPs offer many services related to child care. Here are just a few family-oriented services we can provide through an EAP at no expense to parents:

  • Parenting provides information to parents of all different experience levels with kids of all different ages. This information can be anything parenting-related, from raising your child’s self-esteem to keeping backseat chaos to a minimum.
  • Adoption helps employees throughout the entire adoption process, including the legal and financial aspects, special parenting needs of adopted children, and information on how to find their child’s birth parents.
  • Kids’ Well-Being offers tips to keep children safe and sound from infancy through to young adulthood, with an emphasis on health, safety, and a positive interaction with the world around them.

To ensure your employees find a better work-life balance, direct them to their EAP, which will encourage them to live a healthy, happy life well into old age and help them reduce stresses that come from taking care of an aging family member or raising children.

 

OnCallogic

Studies have found that 40% of people diagnosed with cancer experience symptoms of psychological distress. This is why many EAPs provide organizations with much-needed mental health support for employees affected by cancer, but Aspiria goes even further. We partnered with Gilda’s Club – a leader in an international network of cancer support organizations that has over 20,000 interactions per year with individuals living with cancer – to develop our OnCallogic service.

OnCallogic includes a series of counselling sessions with Cancer Coaching Specialists for employees who have been touched by cancer, whether directly (they have cancer) or indirectly (a loved one has cancer), to ensure that no one has to face a cancer diagnosis alone. The OnCallogic mission is to ensure that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action, and sustained by community and professional support.

It is estimated that nearly 1 in 2 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their life. With the disease being so commonplace in today’s workplace, it has become all the more essential to offer employees expert cancer support services. Not only will OnCallogic ease their difficult circumstances, but it also helps guide them towards living with cancer, whatever the outcome.

 

WorkLife Web Portal

Of today’s youth, the employees of tomorrow, 68% say they would use the Internet to search for mental health information if they needed to, making online access to resources more important than ever. It is for this reason that Aspiria connects employees to the work-life balance information they need at the click of a button and allows them to communicate with Work-Life Consultants 24/7 over instant messaging.

Our WorkLife Web Portal, accessible through the Aspiria website, provides access to the following seven life modules:

  • Aging
  • Balancing
  • Living
  • Working
  • Thriving
  • Parenting
  • International

 

Each of these modules offer “digital kits” on a large number of topics that employees and their family members can relate to, no matter what stage of life they’re in. These kits include informative articles, assessments, and audio files.

By offering an EAP that includes online accessibility to important tools and resources, you allow your employees more ease than ever before to achieve a proper work-life balance.

For more details on these work-life services and everything else your EAP has to offer, contact your provider today. And keep an eye out for our next instalment of Getting More Out of Your Assistance Program next quarter!


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Getting the Upper Hand on Mental Health in the Workplace

work-2005640_1920Rarely does a day go by that I don’t hear or read that roughly one in five people are experiencing mental health difficulties. I see this statistic so often that it shocks me to know that only six to eight per cent of employees who have access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) actually use it.

I’ve seen many employers show willingness to accommodate employee mental health and work-life concerns, and still employees don’t use the resources available to them. Why is that?

In my experience, these are the most common reasons an employee might not seek help for their mental health and work-life needs:

  • They aren’t aware of their EAP benefit.
  • They don’t believe they need help.
  • They have the perception that the EAP is not confidential and believe that their anonymity will be compromised at work.

If you’re keen to raise employee awareness and access to the workplace mental health resources available to your employees, the key is to be proactive with your communication of the program. Here’s what I mean:

 

Inform Early and Regularly

Unlike other benefits like a dental plan, it is not plainly obvious what to do when you are in emotional pain. When implementing a new EAP, does your organization have a communication plan to roll out to employees? For example, have you considered running live or webinar orientation sessions for all employees, and special manager sessions so that they know what to do if an employee lands on their doorstep with a personal problem?

If you already have an EAP, does your new employee onboarding process include information about your available EAP mental health and work-life services? That is, for new hires, consider adding information regarding the EAP to your orientation package, like an EAP brochure, wallet card, or fridge magnet, or consider scheduling a mental health video presentation. This can be particularly helpful for employees who may need help but don’t ask for it because they worry how their employer or fellow employees will perceive them. In a presentation setting, no one is singled out.

Have you considered providing orientation sessions on specific value-added services being provided through your EAP to highlight a solution to a particular mental health or work-life issue? Nutrition, life coaching, financial, and legal are but a few areas of interest to employees who are looking for solutions to mental health and work-life issues.

How about creating posters that highlight mental health problems and solutions through the EAP? Displaying informative posters in high-traffic areas, such as washrooms and kitchens, will grab the attention of employees and increase the probability that those with a mental health or work-life problem will seek help.

Does your organization run health fairs, special theme days, or wellness campaigns at work? If so, the EAP can be invited to participate in these events, focusing on education and awareness of the EAP or a specific part of the service such as nutrition, etc.

 

Conduct Surveys (for companies with 50+ employees)

If you are curious to know how many of your employees use EAP services, ask them! Anonymous online surveys can be a highly effective tool to gather important mental health information from your employees. Here are a few questions you may consider asking:

  • Which EAP services do you use?
  • Which EAP services would you like to learn more about?
  • How would you like to be informed about available EAP services?
  • What barriers are preventing you from using EAP services?
  • What new services would you like to see offered under the EAP that currently are not being provided?

Anonymous surveys allow you to both inform your employees about their EAP and collect valuable data on how to better showcase it.

Our experience shows that proactive communication of an EAP and its work-life services will result in service awareness and increased utilization. This is the value of the program. Conversely, an EAP that does not have effective employee communication will lead to the eventual death of the program. The combination of orientation sessions, written communication materials, internal surveys, and special events are powerful ways to raise mental health awareness of this important benefit and it shows employees that you, as the employer, care for their well-being. Your employees may already be using their workplace mental health and work-life services, which is terrific, but how many more employees continue to suffer in silence? For the continued betterment of your workplace, consult with your EAP so they can help you develop a strategic EAP communication plan. To realize the full value of this benefit, remind employees of their EAP whenever and wherever possible!

 

 


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Suicide in the Media: Making Your Feelings Your Own

woman-1006100_1280As you may have heard, the world has lost two iconic celebrities to suicide in the past two weeks: Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Although an average of 11 suicides are committed every day in Canada, we tend to pay more attention to the subject when the media covers celebrity deaths.

With news stories reporting more and more information about celebrities, their families, and the state of their mental health, you may find yourself comparing your life and state of mind to theirs. Since the suicide rate increased by 10% in the United States shortly after Robin Williams took his life, how can we prevent the same from happening after every celebrity suicide?

We sometimes find it difficult to understand why celebrities, who seem to have the world as their oyster, would commit suicide. If we are having difficulties with work, money, or love, and it seems that celebrities have everything going for them, why is their life less worth living than ours?

At the risk of sounding cliché, money may make things easier, but it does not buy happiness. Regardless of one’s financial or social status, experiencing difficulties with mental health has no boundaries. Celebrities face several roadblocks on the path to happiness, just as we might. No matter how many news stories are posted, detailing facts (or rumours) about a person of interest, we can never truly know a celebrity’s complete story. Their experiences and difficulties are their own; just because they are famous doesn’t mean their problems are any more or less important than yours or mine.

One recommendation I have to cope with the influx of celebrity suicide coverage in the media is to avoid applying “should” to your feelings or those of other people. For example, “I should be miserable because my life is worse than Anthony Bourdain’s.” There is no “should” when it comes to emotions. You feel the way that you feel, and there is a reason for it. Whether or not you know or understand that reasoning, your feelings are just as valid as anybody else’s.

If recent events have helped you recognize that you have difficulties managing your mental health, I ask you to seek help. If you are unsure where your mental health stands, let the passing of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain be your push to talk to someone. Check in with your 24/7 Employee or Student Assistance Program, reach out to a friend or a family member, or call one of many available 24-hour suicide hotlines.

And please don’t forget to follow up with your loved ones who may be affected by sensationalized media coverage of celebrity suicides. Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression, and let your friends, family, and coworkers know that no one is alone.