Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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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 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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Home for the Summer: A Guide to Living with Your Family, Again

271-ted72544532-ae-id-384598-jpegCongratulations, you survived exam season and a full year of school!

By now, you may have moved back in with your family for the summer. For some, this may be exciting, but for others, you may cringe at the thought of having to spend the entire summer living at home. It can be highly stressful sacrificing some aspects of your independence, especially if you’ve been calling the shots while away at school.

Regardless of your enthusiasm level for your familial situation, here are my tips on how to make the most out of living with your family again:

Maintain Your Social Circle

If your departure to school meant your parents became empty nesters while you were away, they may want to spend copious amounts of time with you while they can. However, your intentions may involve spending as much time as possible with new and old friends. With communication and empathy from both sides, everyone can understand each other’s social needs. To avoid feelings of isolation during the summer, try to stay in contact with whom you can, and remember to join in on family dinners and outings once in a while so as not to make your family feel isolated from you.

Avoid Going Stir Crazy

If you really need a break from your family and some time in the sun, take a road trip to meet your friends. Spending time outdoors, like at the beach or in a campground, is a great way to reduce stress. Prolonged time in cities can fatigue the brain, and time in nature allows it to rest. Having fun or relaxing outside throughout the summer can give your mind a much-needed break before returning to the grind of studies.

Help Around the House

A giant bonus of living with family is home-cooked meals, but you may want to consider cooking for your family once in a while. Cooking can be quite effective at combatting negative emotions, and testing out healthy recipes can be especially beneficial for your mental and physical health.

If you really want to get in your parents’ good books, sweep, vacuum, or dust when you have a moment. Cleaning not only benefits the household, but it can also directly affect your own mental and physical health. Simply making your bed every morning makes you 19 per cent more likely to get a good night’s sleep.

Even when everyone may mean well, hurtful things can be thought of, said to, or done between family members. If you are having difficulty adjusting to being home for the summer, please seek counselling and stay strong knowing that this living situation is only temporary.


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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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Coping Strategies for the Humboldt Broncos Tragedy

humboldt_broncos-1040x572

Image courtesy of Sportsnet

It has been bittersweet this past week to see the world come together over the tragic loss of so many members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team, which occurred on Friday, April 6th.

Tragedies like this bring to my mind a pebble that’s been thrown into water: it touches so much more than the direct point of impact. Like ripples in the water, the unexpected loss of life has impacted many people, from the families of the deceased to the survivors, the local community, Canadians, and people around the world. We are all indirect victims of this tragedy.

Everyone is uniquely affected by the Humboldt tragedy. Based on my experience working with individuals in crisis, I’ve outlined some suggestions to help you cope and maybe even support those people who are having a terrible time making sense of what happened in Humboldt.

Directly Impacted

Life-altering events like this one have a profound impact on our lives, and we may never fully feel whole again after the loss of a loved one.

We all experience grief differently, but the important thing to keep in mind is that you allow yourself time to grieve. Know that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, and those around you will do whatever they can to support you during this difficult time.

If you find that this event may have triggered buried emotions or perhaps even PTSD, reach out to a grief counsellor as soon as possible to discuss your feelings and emotional state.

Indirectly Affected

Even if you have not been directly affected by this tragedy, you may know someone who was. Make sure they are getting the help they need but also tread lightly, as everyone deals with crisis differently. If they ask to be alone, leave them alone, but check in every couple of days to make sure they are okay. It may seem difficult to find a balance between being too involved and not involved enough, but they will appreciate your efforts in the long run.

You may also be indirectly affected because you are a parent of a child on a hockey team, you have children the same age, or you are a compassionate human being. If you find that you are out of sorts and are having difficulty focusing because of this tragedy, talk about it with your support system, whether it is a family member, a friend, or a work colleague. Also know that professional counsellors are available to support you during this or other difficult times in your life.

Show Your Support

No matter how you may be connected to this tragedy, here are some ways you can join the growing support for the Humboldt community:

  • Wear a Jersey. People from all walks of life having been donning sports jerseys in support of Jersey Day. Share your jersey picture and well wishes on Twitter using #JerseysForHumboldt.
  • An indication of the far-reaching effects of this tragedy is the millions of dollars that have been raised worldwide in such a short period for the families of the hockey team. A GoFundMe campaign has been created to raise money for the families and survivors of the crash. No amount of money will take away the pain the survivors and families are facing, but every donation helps ease any potential financial strain they may experience as a result of the crash, and donating can also make you feel good about doing something to support the victims.
  • Become an Organ Donor. If you aren’t already an organ donor, perhaps this event may be your inspiration to become one. Logan Boulet, one of the victims of the crash, will be greatly missed, but his passing means that six other people will live because of his organ donor status. For information on registration, you can visit Service Ontario.

For the survivors, the families of the victims, and the community, I imagine that it is extremely difficult to cope while there are many unanswered questions. As long as the investigation is ongoing, even those outside of the community can relate to the need for closure.

If the Humboldt crash directly affects you or if you relate to it in any way, I encourage you to seek counselling. You are not alone.