Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Adderall: When a Study Hack Becomes a Drug Problem

studyI recently wrote a blog about the Fentanyl crisis affecting Canadians today. This week, I want to discuss another drug crisis impacting Canadian youth: Adderall abuse. Adderall is a prescription drug used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children and adults, but the drug has gained popularity among post-secondary students who use the medication as a “study drug”. When used for its intended purposes, Adderall helps increase one’s ability to focus. When people who do not suffer from ADHD use the drug, they experience laser-sharp concentration, making it a popular study tool for stressed students. According to the American Journal of College Health, 76% of students will be offered the prescription drug throughout their four years of university, and about 30% will accept it.

Back when I was in university, Adderall was not used as a study drug, and if it was, it definitely wasn’t discussed as openly as it is today. When we began offering our SAP services, I was shocked to learn just how prevalent the use of Adderall is on many campuses today. As some schools are in the middle of midterms, and others are preparing for final projects and exams, I thought I would write this blog to educate students on the dangers of this quick fix study trick.

People who have used the drug for studying purposes report feeling focused and motivated to complete their work. Spending hours in the library studying for an exam can be mind numbing, but because Adderall was designed to lengthen your attention span, students find it easier to get through their workload.

Adderall is one of the most addictive prescription drugs on the market. When a student uses it and receives a great mark on a paper or exam, it can be difficult not to resort back to the method that helped them achieve it. A lot of students carry the mantra, “I’ll just use it this once to get through this tough exam period”, but if a student is relying on Adderall for their brain power, what’s to stop them from using it in the working world as well?

Adderall can affect your body in a number of ways. Short–term, students who take Adderall experience feelings of nervousness, nausea and agitation. Since the drug maintains your focus, it also reduces your appetite. Consequently, students often miss important meals after taking the drug. Abuse of the drug has been linked to eating disorders and other associated mental health issues.

After taking excessive amounts of Adderall over a period of time, your body begins to depend on it, just like any other drug. Suddenly it can be difficult to accomplish daily tasks without popping a few pills first. As mentioned in my previous blog about Fentanyl, people often begin abusing one drug and move on to more powerful substances to get a more intensified high. Last year, the Toronto Star published an article discussing the link between Adderall use and suicide.

So how is it so easy for students to get their hands on this drug? It is estimated that only 1 in 20 children in Canada have ADHD, but that doesn’t stop students desperate to improve their grades. A quick Google search can expose hundreds of articles with titles like, “How to trick your doctor into prescribing you Adderall”. Faking symptoms of ADHD can lead doctors to a misdiagnosis, and students can walk away with a powerful prescription. Students who have received prescriptions are known to sell the drug to their peers for up to $25 a pill.

Have you or a loved one recently started using Adderall to combat school stress? Here are my tips on how you can deal with the problem now:

  1. Get organized without the use of prescription medication. Talk to your teachers if you are feeling stressed, and surround yourself with positive people who want to help you succeed.
  2. If you are experiencing physical symptoms from Adderall use, talk to a medical professional. Talking about drug use can be difficult, but living with an addiction is harder.
  3. Talk to your campus mental health or SAP provider for assistance on managing drug use and stress levels. They have the tools to assist you through an Adderall dependency, or managing the challenges of schoolwork.

There is no denying that post-secondary life is difficult. I remember staying up late to finish papers and stressing over exams for hours, I was always a crammer. While taking Adderall might seem like a short-term solution to your stress, working hard to get a good grade is a lot more rewarding.

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Campus life: Are you prepared?

As September draws closer, students all over Canada are preparing for their first year of university or college. Leaving home, new classes, new friends and new activities, it can be a lot to handle. While attending post-secondary school is an exciting chapter in anyone’s life, it can also be a transitional period for students experiencing it all for the first time.

 Student Life

Moving out on your own is exciting and full of opportunities, but at times it can be lonely. Clinical psychologist Dr. Christopher Thurber co-produced a study on homesickness in university students, and found that while all students miss something about home when they’re away, 5-10% of post-secondary students develop intense homesickness, which has an effect on behaviour.

Homesickness isn’t the only threat to first year students’ mental health. Students have to deal with a more demanding curriculum, adapt to new roommates, new classmates and learn how to take care of themselves for the first time ever. I remember the culture shock I experienced during my first few weeks of classes at York University, and that was back when university wasn’t as expensive, programs were less competitive, and moving away from home was not the thing to do!

Students who choose to live at home during post-secondary schooling are not exempt from mental health issues either. While staying home saves students and families from the financial burden of accommodation, it can be challenging to watch friends go off and start a new life while they remain at home with their parents who may still treat them as children.

Mental health issues in universities and colleges are not new. Why do you think Reading Week was introduced? It was created in the 1960s to allow students a reprieve from their demanding curriculum. Since then, mental health issues have grown exponentially. In 2011, Ryerson University’s centre for student development and counselling found that there was a 200% increase in students reporting a crisis situation. I was initially shocked by this statistic, but a Maclean’s report about mental health on campus provided some background on this issue. They found that more students are enrolling in school with previous mental health issues than ever before, and now these existing issues are being intensified.

We developed The Student Assistance Program (affectionately known as SAP) at Aspiria to augment what schools are currently providing to assist students seeking help with their mental heath on campus. Our goal is to help students thrive while at school and build resiliency skills to prepare them for graduation and the workforce

Attending college or university certainly has its challenges for students, but it’s important to remember that the experience is also exciting, rewarding, and will help shape who they become in life.

So how can we help students adjust to their 1st year of college or university ? Here are a number of tips for students on how to stay mentally well:

  • Parents should encourage their children to work summer jobs to create a sense of independence and responsibility they will carry with them to school.
  • If students are moving away for school, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the campus prior to starting classes. This will allow for less of a culture shock when school begins.
  • Join clubs and social groups. Clubs are a great way to meet friends and people who have similar interests. International students can find other students who have recently moved to their campus .
  • Seek help with the school’s counsellors or find out if a SAP is offered. These programs are in place to help students address their mental health issues and are always accessible.

 

1st year on campus can be a difficult adjustment for students. What additional strategies can you think of that can make the transition to campus life easier for students?


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3 Ways to Engage Your Millennial Employees in Workplace Wellness

Millennials-at-work_AckermanCo-SeriesJust like the baby boomer generation, millennials are driving a culture change in the workplace. Organizations are realizing that a one-size-fits-all approach to benefits and workplace wellness is simply no longer feasible. With millennials now comprising more than one-third of the workforce, and will be 75% of the workforce in 2025 (Deloitte), engaging this growing and influential demographic will be crucial to your business. Millennials are seeking out employers who make employee engagement a priority, and are looking for a company that offers a great learning environment, opportunities to get involved in the organization and community, and has a fun, supportive culture. Here, I suggest some things to consider when thinking about your workplace wellness programs:

  1. Develop social strategies

To engage your millennial employees you’ll need to be creative. Create social and fun opportunities and devote a significant portion of your time to team-building and encouraging socializing. How about an evening paintballing, or at an escape room? Embrace social media, smart phones and other online platforms and encourage employees to join in. While some may view this as a potential distraction, it can ultimately help your business by turning your workforce into a tight-knit community and facilitating strong communication between your employees. Organizing St. Patrick’s Day activities, get a mini air hockey/foosball table for the lunchroom, a chat group (like BBM) to specifically connect about work and non-work-related topics, or plan to surprise your employees for example, serving pancakes for breakfast. These are small things that allow your millennial employees to connect and socialize at work as well as outside of work.

  1. Managers act as mentors

Millennials crave regular feedback on their work, not because they want to be patted on the back every time they complete an assignment, but because they want to do solid work. Millennials often seek out feedback as a way of growing in their jobs and ensuring that their work is valuable to the company. One of the reasons why millennials are so interested in performing well, receiving feedback, and earning recognition for their work is that they are very interested in career advancement. Millennials tend to disengage quickly if they feel stuck in a dead-end job. Your millennial employees are looking to their managers for mentorship, and think of them as more than just a “boss.”

  1. Provide flexibility

While millennials can be highly dedicated to their work, it doesn’t mean they love the idea of spending eight hours in an office every day. For the first generation of digital natives, the idea of an office can feel somewhat antiquated since they are aware of how much work can be accomplished with no more than an Internet connection. It may seem counter-intuitive, but while many millennials are extremely interested in forming meaningful connections with their work and their fellow employees, they also tend to view themselves as being more independent than workers from earlier generations. You may find that you will get the most productivity out of your millennial employees by giving them the freedom to work remotely when possible, and by creating a casual office environment that allows employees to move around and work in groups. Video conferencing also allows staff to virtually sit in on all company meetings, collaborate, and have important conversations without anyone missing a beat.

These are but a few wellness suggestions that will need your attention in order to support your millennials help you grow your business. To be successful, you must take a proactive approach to meeting millennials’ needs. Ask your millennial employees what they look for in a workplace and what means most to them. Although culture change often takes time, beware: Millennials are accustomed to rapid innovation; they expect tomorrow’s wellness program today!


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See The Signs – Recognizing Mental Health Issues in the Workplace

mental-healthJust a few weeks ago at a high school outside of Toronto, a fourteen-year-old girl stabbed and injured five students and two staff members. As a result, there has been more dialogue about bullying, mental illness and mental health, as we are reminded of the importance and seriousness of attending to mental illness in the workplace.

Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time through a family member, friend or colleague, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association. Stigma surrounding mental illness is widespread, often flying under the radar in the workplace because employees tend to suffer in silence – afraid to risk their careers by speaking out and employers are afraid to ask. Recognizing the signs can be crucial to preventing serious situations from developing, and ensuring supports are in place.

Being able to recognize when your employees are distressed, and addressing these concerns, can help to break down the stigma and allow for communication between you and your staff. Let me share with you some tips on recognizing the symptoms of a possible mental health issue with an employee:

  • Missed deadlines
  • Reduced productivity
  • Reduced quality of work
  • Absent or late more frequently
  • Relationship issues or conflicts with co-workers
  • Withdrawal or reduced participation
  • Anxiety, fearfulness, or loss of confidence

Each of these signs alone does not necessarily indicate the presence of an illness, but each can begin a conversation to show your employee, as their employer, that you are supportive and accommodating, especially if performance is suffering. Employees are more likely to ask for help from their employer when you provide them with a caring environment and the probability of their success will increase as well.

Social media can be helpful in providing insight, as the young woman’s blog was her cry for help in the case of the Dunbarton High School stabbing. It is crucial for an organization to be trained and able to identify the signs of an employee who may be in danger of hurting themselves and/or others due to their mental state.

Early recognition of mental health problems, consultation for your supervisors with your EAP, referring employees with the above symptoms to the EAP for assessment, treatment and support, will all help your employees receive the support they require to return to work and/or better manager their job.

The bottom line here is that when your organization creates a mentally healthy work environment for your employees, it allows them to achieve and maintain success.


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Advice for Parents of New University and College Students

Moving to schoolAs we embark on the beginning of another school year, the majority of the focus is rightfully on the university and college students who are transitioning into a whole new phase of life as they enter post-secondary education. As September approached, I saw a great deal of literature that offered advice to the students about what to expect from their first hours, days, and weeks at school. I did not, however, see very much advice for the just as large population of parents of these new first-year students.

As a mental health professional and parent, I’ve collected a few nuggets of wisdom when it comes to supporting your child and new student in this transition.

Stay organized to avoid stress: Nothing is worse than being emotionally fragile and disorganized. Make sure you have the correct information and paperwork, and that you have made your to-do lists and shopping lists. This will help you feel prepared and armed to handle the exhaustive and emotional process of moving in your child and saying goodbye.

Encourage your child to try everything: The first couple of days at university and college are designed to appeal to a variety of needs and personalities that help students orient themselves with their new surroundings. While your child may not want to throw themselves into new activities or get-to-know-you games, encourage him or her to try everything that is offered in these first days so that they stay busy and occupied.

Know that homesickness and discomfort are normal: Remind your child that every student feels the same way: new, awkward, and uncomfortable, and this is completely normal! If your child calls you feeling homesick and sad, avoid rushing in to rescue them from these feelings, because they are an important part of acclimatizing to their new environment and learning valuable coping skills.

Make yourself aware of the resources: Your child has a lot on their mind when they arrive to school. They are trying to feel comfortable in their new space, trying to meet people and get oriented in their new home. It wouldn’t hurt for you to familiarize yourself with the resources available on campus and within the school’s housing and residence structure. This way, if and when you see your child struggling or uncomfortable, you can make recommendations and direct them to help.

Be prepared for them to make mistakes: As you probably know from your own experience as a young adult, your child is not perfect. They will make mistakes this year, and these mistakes will help them learn and grow into a better person. While you may be disappointed in certain decisions they make, be there for them and work through it together.

Try not to smother them: This time in your child’s life is crucial to their development into a self-sufficient and responsible young adult. Give them the space they need to discover who they truly are and what makes them happy.

The first few weeks of this transition will be hard for both you and your child, but this is what you’ve worked so hard for – a child who is capable and responsible. Trust that they can take on the world, and know that even though you may not always be physically with them or actively guiding them, you are still the biggest influence in their life.

Remember that everyone is different, and no two parents will handle the situation the same. That being said, how are you managing during the first days of the transition? Share your experience with me below.


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Are you listening to me?

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If you were to poll the employees in your office, you would find that most people believe they are great listeners. They spend most of their day on the phone, communicating with colleagues and giving and receiving instructions. They’ve been listening all their lives – of course they would be good at it! Take the quiz I’ve compiled and see how many of these phrases sound like you:

1. Sometimes I find it easier to concentrate on listening to someone when I am doing something with my hands.

2. In order to contribute to the conversation, I tell a story I think is similar to the one the person is telling.

3. In order to help the person I’m talking to feel heard, I assure them,“I know exactly how you feel”.

4. I try not to distract the person I’m listening to by nodding, gesturing or interrupting their story with “mm-hmm’s” and “uh-huh’s”.

5. I want to be able to offer the best advice possible, so I often think of what I’m going to say while the other person is talking so I don’t forget.

6. To show that we have a close relationship and that I’m on the same page as them, I will often find myself finishing his or her sentence for them.

7. A silence while someone is sharing something important is never good – I try to fill silences as often as I can. 

How did you do on this quiz? Are you a good listener?

I won’t deceive you any longer. This quiz was compiled to demonstrate exactly what good listeners do NOT do. But the behaviours listed above don’t seem all that bad, you might be thinking. Good listening requires some social nuances that you may not be aware of . Listening is also an active activity, one that takes attention and effort – whereas hearing may be considered passive. So, let’s break down what it means to actually be a good and active listener, using the examples above.

1. While it may be easier for you to listen while fidgeting or having your hands occupied, you may be giving off the impression that you are distracted, even if you are listening intently! The last thing you want is the person sharing with you to feel like you would rather be doing something else than listening to them.

2. It’s understandable that you might want to share a story about a similar experience or event while listening to someone – you want them to know you understand where they’re coming from! As a good listener, however, you must understand that no two situations are exactly the same, and even if experiences are similar, his or her take on the experience may be very different from yours. As well, when you respond to someone else’s shared experience with your own experience of a perceived similar event, the conversation then becomes about you not them, and this does not reinforce to the other person that you are truly listening to their needs. Respect the differences and try to understand their experience.

3. To reiterate the point above, you may have had similar experiences, but do you truly know exactly how someone feels? The person sharing with you may feel invalidated by hearing that their feelings are normal, common, or worse, not worth the time they are spending talking about them with you. In fact, the other person could very well feel that this exchange has now become about you and not about the information they’ve shared with you. Avoid saying you know exactly how someone feels, and instead seek to understand the intricacies of their unique feelings.

4. This particular behaviour might be a contentious point, because differences in culture and demographics can affect whether using supportive noises such as “uh-huh” and “mm-hmm” are appropriate as a listener. For some, supportive noises and sounds encourage a speaker to continue sharing and demonstrates a listener’s interest and care for the person and the subject matter. For others, these noises could be considered interruptive. Do your best to understand what is appropriate, respecting cultural differences.

5. If you are thinking of the next thing you will say as a person is talking, you are not giving the other person your full attention. Ultimately, the person you are listening to will likely appreciate that they’ve been fully heard versus receiving advice you formulated while multi-tasking, or not interested.

6. This is another contentious one: When you attempt to finish someone’s sentences correctly, the other person might appreciate the feeling of understanding, familiarity and closeness associated with your relationship in that moment. Get it wrong, however, and you run the risk of seeming interruptive and totally in left field about how the person feels. Finishing other people’s sentences can also be perceived as a sign that you are not being patient and respectful of the other person needing more time to articulate their thoughts into speech. Better to avoid finishing someone’s sentences unless you are very close with the other person and can accurately predict their thinking.

7. Never fear silence! Silence can allow you to collect your thoughts as an active listener in order to understand and give better advice, as well as encourage the speaker to share more about what they’re feeling.

Now that you have some tools to better equip yourself as a listener, test them out! See if you can pick up on your habits and traits as a listener, and how you can better develop this important skill – both for use in your personal life and the workplace.  Remember, to be a good listener, you need to be an active listener.

Do you still consider yourself a good and active listener? Were any of the behaviours surprising to you?


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Spring: The Season to Discuss Healthy Body Image

stock-footage-woman-running-and-jumping-on-the-beach-slow-motionIt seems as though the warmer weather is finally here to stay, and as the temperature rises, the winter clothing layers are coming off to make way for summer clothes. As the layers come off, however, there is perhaps a slightly uncomfortable yet familiar self-consciousness that comes along with showing more skin in the summer months. Body image issues are prevalent among all demographics and genders, and summer weather is often when advertisements and other images in the media bring to light our body insecurities.

We know that media and print advertising does not leave very much room for imperfection, with photoshop and body enhancement surgeries widely available. We are being sold an idea of beauty and handsomeness based on impossible standards that we compare our own bodies to. Many of us, perhaps unconsciously, spend money in an attempt to meet these unrealistic and unnatural standards – why else would we spend millions of dollars on things like teeth whitening products, hair dye, diet foods, body-building supplements, plastic surgery, and gym memberships?

So, what is a healthy body image? The topic was trending in social media recently when young video blogger and musician, Meghan Tonjes, posted a photo to Instagram that aimed to celebrate her weight loss journey and the photo-sharing app removed the photo, claiming it violated its community standards surrounding nudity. Disappointed and confused, Tonjes believed her photo and account  were targeted because her plus-sized figure did not fall into the very narrow standards of beauty set by society.  Tonjes’ eloquently argued video response garnered praise from folks all over North America, where she said she would not be apologizing for her body and if her photo violated Instagram’s community guidelines, then so did many others, regardless of their body size.

Instead of focusing on what we need to do or buy to make our bodies more perfect, how can we improve our body image?

  1. Separating body image from self-esteem: Body image is the mental picture you have of your body and how you see your body, while self-esteem is how you value and respect yourself as a person. Regardless of your body size or how you perceive your body, people with high self-esteem understand that they are good and valuable people regardless of their body size.
  1. Appreciating your body for what  it  can do: We are often so focused on what our body cannot do – lose weight, gain muscle, firm up – that we forget all the glorious things it can do: walk, run, jump, lift things, dance, hug our loved ones etc. Remembering all that our body allows us to do will help us on the road to being more appreciative and less critical of it.
  1. Treat our body to healthy foods: No – I’m not necessarily talking about a diet, because we will always turn to the  negative when we feel deprived of something, like our favourite foods. Try instead, to look at food as fuel and that you are doing your body a service by eating healthy and nutrient-rich foods.
  1. Avoid body shaming: Because the media tells us to strive towards an ideal of attractiveness that is nearly impossible to attain, we are prone to speak to our bodies negatively and be critical of other people’s bodies too. Try to stop yourself from this train of thought and instead of looking for imperfections in bodies, search for things you appreciate, like a beautiful smile.

 

The human body is a miracle:  it is created in a way that allows us to carry out all of life’s activities.  Of course we want our bodies to look their best, but ultimately, what matters is how you feel about your body outside of the unrealistic standards that have been set for us by the beauty industry, Hollywood, and, the media.

How have you seen unrealistic expectations of body image portrayed in the media? How else can you appreciate your body and work towards a healthy body image? I look forward to your thoughts below.