Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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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 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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Surviving the Opioid Crisis

medications-cure-tablets-pharmacy-51004It wasn’t too long ago that I spoke of the rising risk fentanyl posed to society. Fast-forward nearly two years later, and the opioid crisis we’re facing seems to only be getting worse, not better.

In 2015, one in nine deaths of Ontario youth aged 15 to 24 years were related to opioids. Since then, several hundred more have been reported. It is for these reasons that I encourage you to learn about the effects of opioids and the resources available to you and loved ones experiencing an opioid dependency.

What Are Opioids?
Opioids are medications that are most often prescribed by physicians to treat pain. Examples include morphine, oxycodone, and heroin. Like most pain relievers, opioids cause strong feelings of relaxation. This feeling can become highly addictive, and if opioids are taken in excess, users feel “high” and are at risk of overdosing.

What is the Opioid Crisis?

The primary opioid responsible for the crisis is fentanyl. Fentanyl is up to 100 times stronger, and therefore more addictive and dangerous, than morphine. Due to its addictive nature, it is often added without users’ knowledge to various street drugs. Such drugs are already highly addictive and dangerous, and unprescribed consumption of fentanyl drastically increases users’ chances of overdosing. Between January and September 2017, at least 2,923 deaths related to opioid overdoses occurred in Canada, 66% of which involved fentanyl.

What Are the Symptoms of Opioid Use?

Different opioids can produce different symptoms, but the general symptoms of opioids include the following:

  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Liver damage
  • Infertility

The largest concern around opioid use is the high risk of overdose. For signs and symptoms of an overdose, visit our International Overdose Awareness Day blog.

What Resources Are Available to Combat the Crisis?

There are many safety precautions you and your loved ones can take to prevent overdosing on opioids, including the following:

  • Stay Informed: The Government of Canada has created a life-saving Opioids Toolkit to help you stay in the know.
  • Use Supervised Consumption Sites: Ideally, there wouldn’t be any illegal use of drugs, but supervised consumption sites provide safe spaces to use illegal drugs without fear of prosecution.
  • Acquire a Naloxone Kit: If you or someone you know is overdosing on opioids, administer naloxone to temporarily stop the overdose, and then call 911. Some provinces provide naloxone kits for free.

If you witness someone overdose or if you believe you are experiencing an overdose, call 911 immediately. Even if you are unsure if what are witnessing or experiencing is an overdose, the safest option is to call 911.

If you or someone you know is using opioids ­– or any other recreational drug – and you fear for your and someone else’s safety, contact your health care provider, Aspiria’s Student Assistance Program services, or your school’s counselling services.


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Mental Health Week Spotlight: Managing ADHD in the Workplace

k-15_dsc9632b-id-58829-jpeg.jpgMental Health Week (May 7 to 13) is quickly approaching, making this a good time for Canadians to reflect on the state of their mental health, to discuss the importance of positive mental health, and to help reduce the stigma associated with mental health concerns.

Since Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may affect as many as 3.5% of adults, I’d like to take some time to discuss this stigmatized mental health issue that is often misunderstood.

ADHD is most often diagnosed in childhood, but it can also persist into adulthood. Because it’s frequently associated with children, adults with ADHD may feel hesitant to disclose their mental health concerns to their employer. As an organization, how can you help your employees cope if they’re afraid to reach out?

Here are a few of many possible ADHD symptoms and some tips so you can better accommodate employees with ADHD in the workplace:

Restlessness

If an employee is unable to sit still and focus for extended periods of time, it may be a sign that they have ADHD.

Fidget devices are simple gadgets that allow users to idly fiddle and exert excess energy in order to help them focus. If your employee has a preferred fidget device, consider allowing them to use it at work. If it produces a sound that distracts their coworkers, suggest alternatives.

Distractibility

We all know that workplaces can be high stress environments that may be noisy and hectic, with looming deadlines and tensions running high. It’s hard enough for you or me to ignore such distractions, let alone someone with ADHD. Offering your employees noise-cancelling headphones to listen to music may greatly improve their focus.

Trouble with Multitasking

 Since people with ADHD often have difficulty focusing, they may also experience frustration when trying to multitask a heavy workload. If your employees have difficulty completing their tasks efficiently and in a timely manner due to ADHD, consider scheduling weekly progress meetings, or even daily if you have the time. A mere 15 minutes per week might be all your employees need to better prioritize and split large projects into more manageable tasks.

A Short Temper

Untreated ADHD can result in occasional mood swings, often caused by irritation with their own restlessness and distractibility.

Having an employee with a short temper, no matter the reasoning, is not something many employers can afford to tolerate. However, we want to support our employees in any way we can. Refer employees to your Employee Assistance Program (EAP), where they will receive tools and techniques to address potential mood swings.

Many people with ADHD have additional mental health concerns, such as depression or bipolar disorder, making ADHD particularly difficult to treat. In these cases, ADHD medication, like Adderall, may not be the best course of treatment, especially since it can be highly addictive. If you or someone you know is having difficulty with ADHD management, please contact your EAP provider for assistance.


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Cheers to That: The Importance of Drinking Responsibly

Alcohol.jpegIf you’re one of the thousands of students who spent this past weekend celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on and off-campus, I hope you had a fun, safe, and enjoyable weekend. If, instead, you’re looking back on the weekend with regret, you may have learned that alcohol can have very serious negative effects, especially when binge drinking in public settings.

To binge drink means to consume multiple drinks on one occasion, and tragedies associated with binge drinking, especially for today’s youth, are all too real. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Canada’s Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines suggest that women drink no more than 10 alcoholic beverages per week and that men drink no more than 15.

Although I encourage making the most of your post-secondary life, keep in mind the following potential risks of drinking in excess the next time you go out:

Drinking and Driving

According to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, it only takes one drink to reduce your reaction time while driving. Drinking alcohol can also result in decreased vision, reduced concentration, and inhibited judgement. Even the most skilled and confident drivers can’t keep these effects of alcohol at bay.

Not to mention the potential financial and legal consequences of driving under the influence. It’s illegal to drive with any alcohol in your system if you are under 21 years old. If you’re under 21 years old and you are caught with a blood alcohol content (BAC) above zero, your driver’s licence will be suspended and you can receive a fine of up to $500. Students have enough expenses as it is – impaired driving fines should not be one of them.

For those over the age of 21, the legal limit is technically 0.08, but fines and licence suspensions begin at 0.05.

As a post-secondary student you likely long for and revel in your independence, but if you’ve been drinking alcohol, ensure you have access to a designated driver, take public transit, or use a ride-sharing service like Uber or Lyft.

Emotions

Drinking alcohol can enhance our emotions. This can be our extroversion, flirtatiousness, sense of humour, or – for a rare few – anger. Many drink to have fun, to feel good, to relieve stress; but a range of intense emotions such as spontaneity, sadness, anxiety, and anger can be exacerbated by alcohol.

Most people are to a certain extent risk-averse when sober. However, under the influence of alcohol, inhibitions are set free, and what we are left with are carefree revelers who no longer have the acuity to make sound decisions. Potential dangerous situations often are not taken seriously, such as partying on the 18th floor balcony of a high rise apartment, or at a swimming pool, by railroad tracks, in front of traffic, all of which are potential recipes for disaster.

Few would yell or take a swing at a friend or even a stranger while sober, but with alcohol in the system an accidental nudge could result in violence.

If you take a negative emotional turn while drinking alcohol, this may be caused by an underlying mental health concern. Consider making an appointment with a counsellor to discuss these negative feelings.

Sexual Misconduct

Perhaps the scariest of all risks of drinking is the increased risk of being sexually assaulted. Due to lowered inhibition, it’s very possible to be unaware when someone else is acting inappropriately, and a reduced reaction time can make it difficult to ward off unwanted advances.

If you hit it off with someone at a bar or party, be mindful of the other person’s alcohol intake. Under Canadian law, intoxication is considered a factor that affects a person’s ability to consent. Intimacy without consent changes the lives of both parties, forever. When in doubt, get their number and call them when you are both sober.

Always keep an eye on your drink. At large parties and cramped bars, it’s easy for someone to put something in the drinks of potential victims. Never leave your drink unattended.

Students often treat drinking with friends at house parties, at the local pub, or on St. Patrick’s Day as a right of passage or tradition, but it can and should be done with care. When drinking, keep these tips in mind: watch how much you drink, watch your emotional state while you drink, watch what goes into your drinks, and stay safe. If you’re concerned about your state when drinking alcohol, reach out to a trusted friend or family member, school counsellor, or Student
Assistance Program for help.

 

 


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Marijuana and Mental Health: What You Need to Know

weed-2517251_640Many, if not all of us, are aware marijuana is set to become legal in Canada in just a few short months, and there are many questions lingering as to how this will affect Canadians. Marijuana has been prescribed to treat physical conditions such as cancer, arthritis, and other physical pain for some time now, and some physicians have begun to prescribe medical marijuana for anxiety and PTSD, as well as depression. However, its effects on those users with mental health issues is largely in need of more clinical research, as the majority of research is from cannabis producers or focused on its illicit use. I want to explore these murky waters with you, and look at how medical marijuana and mental health are intimately linked.

Is Marijuana Good for Everyone’s Mental Health?

The Clinical Psychology Review recently reported that evidence has been found that marijuana can bring back feelings of pleasure for individuals with depression, and it can calm and soothe individuals with anxiety. It can even shut down the dream process for individuals living with nightmares from PTSD. However, not every mental health issue responds with a positive “high”; for some individuals with bipolar disorder, for example, there appears to be more negative side effects than positive ones.

Public opinion seems to hold that marijuana is a harmless substance that helps you to relax and “chill” and might even be good for your physical and mental health, unlike alcohol and tobacco. However, while there may be some truth to this, if higher amounts are consumed, it may instead increase anxiety and paranoia, and cause confusion and hallucinations that can last a few hours to some weeks in your system. Long-term use can also have a depressant effect and reduce motivation for some users.

Is It Addictive?

Studies suggest that marijuana may have a place in dealing with addiction, and with the sheer number of opioid overdoses in Canada as of late, we could see significant benefits if marijuana is used as a replacement for opioid medications, to reduce usage or even stop using opioids altogether. In 2013, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) found that individuals living with mental health issues were 10 times more likely to have a marijuana use disorder. Usage is particularly elevated for those with bipolar disorder, personality disorders and other substance use disorders. So does marijuana use cause mental health issues, or do people with these mental health disorders use it to self- medicate? Consider how marijuana has similar effects of addictive drugs, such as:

  • Tolerance
  • Craving
  • Decreased appetite
  • Sleep difficulty
  • Weight loss
  • Aggression
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Strange dreams

As well, when withdrawing, 3 out of 4 frequent and long-term marijuana users have reported experiencing cravings; half became irritable; and 7 out of 10 switch to tobacco in an attempt to stay off marijuana. At first, it can alleviate feelings of anxiety, but when the tolerance level builds, it becomes cyclical – not only does one need more to relieve the anxiety, but every attempt to stop can make the anxiety return at a more elevated level than before.

Long-term Effects and Vulnerability

Research over the last 10 years has suggested there is a possibility of developing a psychotic illness, and regular use has appeared to double the risk of developing a psychotic episode or even schizophrenia, particularly in those who are genetically vulnerable to mental illness. Early marijuana use in adolescents and later mental health problems has clearly been linked in those with a genetic vulnerability. These numbers are too high to ignore – teens who used marijuana daily were five times more likely to develop depression and anxiety in later life.

Ultimately, there is not enough research in the area of marijuana as treatment for mental health issues, and we need to hold it to the same standard as any other drug out there. As the laws change, we must remain proactive, and not reactive to what is really going on, and not create more health concerns than we are striving to reduce.


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Let’s Walk the Talk

image.

Image courtesy of ctvnews.ca

On January 31st, Bell Let’s Talk Day will again promote mental health awareness, acceptance and action, donating significant funds it raises to fighting stigma, supporting world-class research, improving access to care, and promoting open dialogue. This initiative makes a huge impact on social media every year, and reminds us of how important it is to be able to actually talk about mental health. As the Founder and CEO of an EAP and SAP service provider to organizations large and small, I believe that such initiatives help so many living with mental health issues, both directly and indirectly. However, the key is to not just talk the talk, but to walk the talk as well, from the top down.

When we consider how vital the well-being of our employees are to the success of the businesses we lead, to create and maintain a healthy and motivated company culture, and to the company’s bottom line, we cannot ignore the essential value of meaningful wellness programs. Wellness initiatives can range from ‘lunch and learns’ to posters in the lunchroom, to discounts at the gym to access to professional counselling, to social outings; and they all have the importance of potentially enriching the lives of the employees we support and value. Our staff work hard, dedicating themselves to achieving targets and going above and beyond for our customers and clients, so keeping them motivated and looking forward to coming to work helps keep morale high in the workplace. However, when we do not practice what we preach, and do not have programs in place, or worse, they are available but not valued, then they are perceived as ‘lip-service talk’, disingenuous, and can actually create more damage than not making them available in the first place!

As leaders in our field, we understand how the examples we set lay the foundation on whether we are truly an anti-oppressive and inclusive organization. When feeling overwhelmed or stressed, we know how important it is to have management and directors be approachable and understanding, whether the source of stress is from aspects of the job or in our personal lives. By relaying that approachability to staff, and actually following through on those accommodations and leave requests with genuine care and sincerity, we are setting examples that indicate we are walking the talk. When employees are given the opportunity to access professional help through their EAP, or taking time to stay well, we are encouraging their return-to-work sooner and demonstrating that our company is supportive. We value our staff, investing in them as employees, but also as a valuable member of the human race, one that I want to be proud of. So when we listen to employees’ mental health concerns and take action, that indicates genuine support, and we are truly engaging in open dialogue – so let’s talk!

How is your organization walking the talk? What things have you put in place to ensure your organization is supporting mental health? I look forward to hearing from you!