Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Furthering The Inclusivity Of Women In The Workplace

men-1979261_1920Gender inclusivity has been a huge topic of conversation, especially in regards to the workplace. We’ve come a long way over the past few years, yet despite all of the work that our society has accomplished in creating a more inclusive work environment, women still face challenges in finding equal opportunity and promotion in the workplace, especially when seeking advancement.

In many cases, I’ve seen women who are not only seeking equal opportunity – they are also seeking equal treatment. Studies have shown that despite the increased awareness to the treatment of women in the workplace, many women still experience sexism, sexual harassment, and less opportunity to take on leadership roles within their organization.

Here’s how these factors have had an impact on the workplace, and what your organization can do to improve mental health, safety, and wellbeing for women within the work environment.

Sexism and harassment

Approximately 23% of women between the ages of 16 to 30 have said that they’ve experienced discriminatory actions, such as sexism and harassment, in their work environment. What happens to an employee’s mental health when they feel as though they are being discriminated against or harassed because of their gender? Employee dissatisfaction, anxiety, and depression are often the results.

These challenges paint a truly disheartening picture for women seeking leadership opportunities, and it goes to show that employers must be vigilant as to what happens within their organization. I always advise HR professionals to maintain an open door policy with any and all team members so that they may feel comfortable reporting harassment or discrimination, if it occurs. This is a big step towards having a safer work environment.

The lack of equal opportunity

It makes sense that if you put in the hard work and effort, you should be able to reap the benefits. Unfortunately, women are less likely to receive a promotion, often for the same C-Suite positions as their male peers. For women of colour, promotion is even less likely, despite them being 16% more interested in Executive positions. Additionally, women who have families are often passed up entirely for potential leadership roles.

So, what’s the solution? A diversity policy founded on providing equal opportunity to employees (e.g. having the same amount of women as men promoted to more prominent positions) is one of the best recommendations I can make for an organization looking to create a more inclusive space. You may find that having more women in c-level positions offers unique perspectives and methods of business execution that may not have occurred in your organization before.

In addition to this, most are now required to offer parental leave to parents of either gender after the birth of a child. This ensures that both men and women are considered equally valuable to the organization, in conjunction with contributing to their own family dynamic.

Equal pay for equal work

In Canada, women still only make 74 cents for each dollar that their male counterparts make. This is a staggering difference, and it’s something that has been brought to the attention of several organizations. The wage gap has partially occurred as a result of more paying positions being available to women since the inclusion of women in the workforce in the 1950s. However, the current wage gap is likely part in par to gender discrimination.

All employees deserve to be paid equally for equal work. Your employees’ health and happiness are vital to your organization’s success, and it is crucial to remain aware of your employees’ needs and goals, especially when it comes to their mental health.

With your help, your organization can ensure that the workplace is a safe and inclusive space where equal opportunity and resources are provided, not just for your organization’s success, but also for the peace of mind of your employees. If you need more assistance in improving the health and wellness of your organization, or in creating new initiatives for the wellness of your staff, contact your Employee Assistance Program today.

 

 

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Creating A Mental Health Journey With The Arts

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In Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) created an initiative to offer free passes to mental health clients and professionals. The goal was to connect those with mental health issues through art, offering a unique space where they could feel safe and supported by like-minded people. This program is incredibly inspiring – I’d love to see more like it!

I talked about how creativity can positively enhance students’ mental wellbeing during exams, but I’d like to go a bit more in-depth into the mental health benefits of creativity. I’ve seen firsthand the incredibly positive results that the arts can have on people suffering from mental health issues, especially in the student community. This form of therapy is becoming an increasingly popular way for students suffering from mental health issues such as severe anxiety and PTSD to express their creativity on their healing journey.

Here are some of the biggest ways that I’ve seen the arts transform the lives of students struggling with mental health issues:

A new type of safe space

The concept of safe space has been a topic of conversation on many university campuses over the past few years. Despite many debates as to the validity of maintaining safe spaces, I’ve found that they can be very beneficial for several communities, particularly for marginalized students. In the mental health community, safe space takes on additional significance, as many students with mental health concerns may find it difficult to be in public places.

Art galleries and other artistic venues offer a calming, safe atmosphere where students can enjoy a public space with individuals experiencing the same mental health challenges. I’ve often seen these venues become a supportive environment where students are encouraged to connect with others through the healing power of the arts.

An expanding community

To the same point, I’ve seen many students feel so burdened by the prospect of socializing in a group that they can feel unable to leave the comfort of their own home. Mental health issues like depression and anxiety are enough to make it difficult for some people to leave their homes, but the additional stigma related to mental illness can make it unbearable to be in groups. Programs that connect students through artistic venues can offer a sense of community in times where they may feel particularly isolated.

I personally recommend programs that expand mental health communities through the arts because the stigma against mental health is not as prevalent in these communities. There is a strong indication that many artistic groups work to support those suffering from mental health challenges, offering opportunities for self-expression through the healing journey.

Art and its role in personal wellbeing

Creative energy and emotional wellbeing have been linked in several studies, indicating that participation in the arts can improve a person’s quality of life. In the student community, I’ve seen an overall increase in the level of positivity, coupled with a decrease in symptoms of mental health issues like anxiety and depression. In fact, a study revealed that 71% of participants felt a decrease in anxiety, with 76% claiming that they felt an increase in their sense of overall wellbeing.

To me, this is a strong indication that there is a correlation between creative pursuits and combatting mental health issues. With such encouraging statistics, and an increasing trend towards students with mental health issues becoming engaged in the arts, I look forward to seeing more programs like this place in other communities.

My hope is that in the future, programs, such as the AGO’s, will be increasingly available. The demand is there, and in conjunction with your Student Assistance Program, the journey towards better mental health and wellbeing is within your reach.

 

 

 

 

 


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The Next Fix: Social Media And Addiction

smartphone-2123520_1920In the previous blog, I discussed how social media carries the potential to warp your self-perception. In this blog, I’ll address one of the additional dangers that social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook can pose to your mental health: addiction.

Digital addiction is a relatively new concern in the mental health community. Since the popularization of social media apps, many people have become increasingly reliant on these digital platforms. Although social media offers several advantages in terms of communication and connection, its use can become problematic if it takes priority over the rest of your daily activities.

I’ve seen many people become reliant on social media platforms as a form of self-assurance, or even as a form of escapism or procrastination. Here are some of the signs of social media addiction, and what you can do to help yourself, or someone you care about.

The signs and symptoms

Social media addiction to Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook can be difficult to identify, and should be diagnosed by a medical professional. However, there are signs to be aware of when evaluating your social media habits. Some of these signs include:

  • Constant thinking or planning of posts for social media
  • Increasing frequency of use
  • Use of social media to escape personal issues or emotional stress
  • Preference to communicate with others by social media or text rather than in-person when it is appropriate to do so
  • Feeling restless or anxious when you can’t engage on social platforms
  • A negative impact on your personal or professional life as a result of social media use
  • Reduced contact with people in immediate social situations (i.e. a preference to be on your phone (on social media, texting, gaming) instead of engaging with and/or focusing on the person  that you are with)
  • Checking your social media at inappropriate or dangerous times (e.g. while driving, going downstairs, or during important meetings)

Although these symptoms may not be a hard and fast indication of an addiction, they can be considered potential warning signs. Has anyone ever commented on your persistent social media usage in class? Have you had trouble concentrating in a meeting because you’ve been thinking about checking your social media? These could be potential red flags.

If not treated, the long-term effects of social media addiction may include depression, emotional and societal withdrawal, self-esteem issues, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts. If you suspect that you, or someone you care about, are experiencing several of the above symptoms, contact your SAP or EAP immediately.

How to treat social media addiction

Unlike many addictions (e.g. drug or alcohol addiction), social media addiction is best treated with reduced and controlled use, as opposed to abstinence. Even some of the major social media companies, such as Facebook, are now using behavioural data to determine what major social media platforms can do to limit their products to those who are experiencing a potential addiction. Although this measurement is controversial, this is a strategy that has been applied by the online gaming industry, with some valuable results.

In addition to cognitive behavioural therapy and other forms of support, recovery from social media addiction may require additional efforts on your part. These efforts may include:

  • Deleting social media on your phone and limiting your access to it
  • Having supportive friends and family members to help you stay accountable
  • Establishing a routine that does not revolve around, or include, social media usage
  • Discovering your triggers for social media use (e.g. boredom, sadness), and developing coping strategies for when they arise
  • Spending more time with family and friends face-to-face

A social media addiction can feel difficult to overcome, but with help from your Employee or Student Assistance Program, as well as support from loved ones, you can achieve a healthier, more positive relationship with the digital world.


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Keeping Up Appearances: Social Media And Self-Perception

media-998990_1920Social media has been one of the world’s most amazing advancements in communication and social integration. In over two decades, social media has evolved to create an experience for users that allows them to stay in touch and share special moments on a unique platform. However, social media has developed a dangerous side, particularly in terms of users’ mental health.

I’ve often marvelled at how far we’ve come with technology, but at the same time, I’ve witnessed the toll that some social media apps can take on a person’s wellbeing. An increase in depression, anxiety, and body image issues has been attributed to prolonged or excessive social media use, including apps such as Instagram and Snapchat. But what are the exact risks that social media can pose to your mental health? And what can we do to give social media a more positive purpose?

A warped perception

 With the popularization of the “selfie,” some social media users can become enchanted by the idea of perfection. This has led to the development of several social media tools, such as filters, that enhance the overall appearance of a photo and decrease any perceivable “flaws” (e.g. blemishes, wrinkles, etc.) This creates a warped perception of a person’s self-image, leaving some people feeling out of touch with their own appearance, or with their life overall.

In extreme cases, some social media users have had their faces surgically altered to create the exact look that they can only achieve through filters and other photo editing tools.

The rise of photo editing

 The use of photo editing has occasionally been deemed controversial, especially in recent years. With many celebrities calling out publications for digitally retouching photos, there has been concern that many of these tools can further distort self-image, which may have a direct impact on mental health.

Social media apps have now integrated several user-friendly photo-editing tools, including Facetune, Snapseed, and Adobe Photoshop Express. These tools allow you to not just enhance your photos: they allow you to change facial features, skin texture and tone, and even skin colour.

Perception, reality, and addiction

 Aside from issues relating to body image and physical appearance, social media can be highly addictive. You may find yourself frequently checking Instagram, Snapchat, or Facebook to see what other users are up to, but constant use or comparison can lead to a decreased sense of wellbeing.

Although some users may seem to have the perfect life on social media, the reality is often significantly different from what is portrayed online. The resulting comparisons, both from the user posting and from the users viewing the posts, can manifest in stress, anxiety, and obsession. The need to keep up appearances and comparisons may make some users ignore triggers, such as jealousy or shame, that inspire the necessary steps towards self-healing.

The good news

 We don’t always need to focus on the negative. Social media has facilitated a lot of positive changes in the way we stay in touch with our loved ones, communicate our unique ideas, and even market our personal brands. It helps us connect with people that we may not have had the opportunity to meet in the “real world”, and provides a wealth of information that can be shared with the touch of a button. If used for positive means, social media can enhance your life and expand your horizons.

For the most part (unless your job requires social media usage), it’s important to moderate your engagement. Limit the time that you spend per day on social apps, and work towards creating a positive attitude towards your own self-image. Remember that a lot of what’s happening in another person’s life is not necessarily posted on social. Working to maintain your own wellbeing, instead comparing yourself to others, will transform social media into a method of sharing your life in a more meaningful way.

Though it comes with its challenges, social media can be an incredibly powerful and positive tool. If you require guidance on how to better monitor your mental health and wellbeing while working with social media, don’t hesitate to contact your Employee or Student Assistance Program.


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Human Right’s Day Spotlight: Gender Identity

trans-sexuality-3554250_1920The conversation surrounding gender identity in the workplace is becoming increasingly important. As International Human Rights Day approaches, I find myself thinking about the suicide rate amongst transgender individuals; over 78% of the trans community have reported contemplating suicide at one point in their lives. December 10th marks a day when we can all reflect upon what we can do to better support the mental wellbeing of our trans and non-binary community.

It’s crucial to make people of every gender identity feel comfortable and safe in your work environment. Here are some tips that you can use to offer mental health support for your trans and genderqueer employees:

Have a workplace diversity policy 

Part of supporting people of different gender identities is making sure that you have a balanced work environment that represents people from across the gender spectrum. It’s your responsibility as an employer to make sure that trans and non-binary people have their needs met in your workplace culture. This is especially true with providing opportunities to new hires. Making an effort to include more trans and genderqueer individuals on your team will serve to strengthen your overall dynamic and offer new opportunities for growth.

Install a gender-neutral washroom

Washroom options for employees who don’t subscribe to either gender have been a subject of debate for years. However, a gender-neutral washroom is essential for the comfort and safety of anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable using a male or female washroom. This change is a crucial step towards creating an atmosphere of gender equality in any work environment, as well as showing your employees of all genders that you care about their wellbeing and security. Although this may not always be possible, speak with your employee about their specific needs and see if an agreement can be made to better accommodate them.

Implement a non-gendered dress code

Many people like to express their gender identity in various ways, including makeup, hairstyling, and manner of dress. A gender-neutral dress code allows for any person to express their gender identity in whatever manner they desire, without the fear of being reprimanded or excluded. Consider amending your dress code to allow for clothing choices that are not gender biased.

Your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider will also have some valuable tips on supporting the mental health needs of all trans and genderqueer employees, including medical referrals, family counselling services, and personal counselling services.

If your employees are dealing with mental health issues as a result of gender-based bullying or harassment, speak to your Supervisor, HR department, or get in contact with your EAP immediately.


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Getting the Most Out of Your Employee & Student Assistance Programs: Part 2

desk-discussing-discussion-1311518.jpgLast time on our Getting the Most Out of Your Employee & Student Assistance Programs quarterly blog series, we discussed a few of Aspiria’s specialized solutions that breathe new life into work environments by benefitting employees and their families. However, we can’t forget that Aspiria has also provided SAP services to the college and university student market since 2011!

Here are a few specialized solutions that are available through both our EAP and SAP services to benefit employees and students alike:

Nutritional Counselling

Aspiria knows that healthy, active employees and students enjoy a higher quality of life. In today’s busy lifestyle, having a healthy and well-balanced diet is often difficult for many people to maintain; who can say no to leftover Halloween candy? Our professional nutritionists will work with employees, their family members, or students in a face-to-face setting to identify health goals and create customized plans to address any nutrition-based concerns they may have, including weight loss, food preferences, lowering cholesterol, regulating diabetes, and healthy eating on the go.

Legal Counselling

When employees or students experience emotional hardships, sometimes they can be a result of or lead to legal components that require immediate attention. Aspiria’s free legal consultation services provide in-person or telephonic legal advice in several areas of law, including personal, separation and divorce, custody, impaired driving, domestic violence, and civil. Please note that no legal advice is offered for labour-law situations due to any potential conflict of interest. What’s especially helpful about Aspiria’s legal services is that employees or students that wish to retain a lawyer referred to them by Aspiria will receive a discount of up to 25% on those services.

Financial Counselling

Aspiria’s financial education solutions offer bilingual, unbiased counselling and planning services in a combination of online and live individual and group settings. We help employers and schools implement customized financial education programs from start to finish, helping employees and students prepare for a brighter financial future, reducing the negativity associated with financial stress. We also work with you to design a communication strategy to inform your employees or students of the program to ensure its success.

For more details on these specialized solutions and everything else your EAP or SAP has to offer, contact your provider today and follow us on Facebook. And keep an eye out for our next instalment of Getting More Out of Your Assistance Program in the new year!


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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.