Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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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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Going Viral: The Consequences of Video Sharing

action-adult-blur-1632182In November of 2018, Susan Westwood accosted two African American women in the parking lot of their apartment complex. A video shows Westwood hurling racial insults and accusing the two women of “not belonging there.”

The video went viral, resulting in Westwood being served with four misdemeanour charges, including uttering threats and assault. Although this can be seen as a positive end to a troubling situation, the video is proof that viral video sharing isn’t without its consequences.

In 2019, viral videos have the power to ruin someone’s life or reputation. I’ve seen the negative effects, including depression, severe anxiety, and even suicide, that these videos can have on a person’s mental health.

The end of privacy 

I’ve found that one of the greatest risks in video sharing lies in the potential to track down private information. “Doxing” is a term that refers to the hacking and sharing of information, such as a person’s name, location, and credit card number. Once this information is shared online, anyone can access it.

I’ve also found that the subjects of these viral videos can sometimes feel as though their safety is at risk. Public shaming in online forums is relatively common, but in extreme cases, people may experience death threats. This can even happen to minors, as is the case in the recent headlines involving the boys at Covington Catholic High School. 

In many cases, these violations of privacy can lead to online bullying. Regardless of the video that is posted, it’s important to remain aware of the legal ramifications of publicly sharing private information and the long-term effects of online harassment. Cyber bullying has been strongly linked to an increased likelihood of developing mental health issues. Additionally, young people who experience online harassment are twice as likely to self-harm.

With more videos becoming viral each day, I feel as though these violations of privacy are unlikely to cease anytime soon.

How you can protect yourself 

I’ve heard of many situations where students were filmed without their permission. Parties are infamous for students filming other students without their knowledge, often in situations that could prove damaging to the students’ mental health or reputation.

As well, I’ve heard of some people being subjected to assault as a part of “hazing” rituals and that assault being recorded. This aspect of viral video sharing is particularly disturbing as these videos can sometimes cause lasting damage to the victim of the assault, serving as a triggering reminder of the incident.

On campus, you may not always know when you’re being filmed without your permission. However, there are some steps you can take to ensure that both your privacy and safety remain intact:

  • Be aware of your surroundings, especially in social settings (e.g. a party).
  • Make sure that you keep private information off of social media.
  • If you suspect that any of your personal accounts have been hacked, change your passwords.
  • If you ever feel as though your safety is threatened, contact the authorities immediately.

Westwood may be a case of viral video sharing for the betterment of a situation, but when in the wrong hands, these videos can produce shameful, dangerous, and sometimes lethal consequences. If you want to learn more about how viral videos can impact your mental health, contact your Student Assistance Program today.

 


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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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Maintaining Your Mental Health While Studying Abroad

Hand Pointing on Map Planning for Trip with Travel Stuff IllustrStudying abroad can be an exciting opportunity for any student. Many universities offer programs for students to study in a different country, providing life-changing experiences while observing different cultures. As wonderful as the opportunity to study abroad may be, it can be difficult to adjust to a different country’s cultural practices. Loneliness, and even depression, can be common when you are away from the people and places that are familiar to you.

While you are studying abroad, you may find that making your mental health a priority becomes increasingly important. I’ve seen many students become withdrawn, and even depressed, from the lack of socialization and familiarity that comes with being away from home. However, try not to let this dissuade you from seizing the adventure of a lifetime. Here are some tips for maintaining your mental health while you’re studying abroad:

Stay in touch

One of the greatest advantages of modern technology is the ability to stay in touch with the people we care about. Apps like Skype and FaceTime allow you to have a face-to-face conversation with the people you love from anywhere in the world. In combination with social media, texting apps (e.g. WhatsApp), and email, there are more ways to stay in touch than ever.

A feeling of connection, especially with friends and family, is an essential part of a person’s mental and physical wellbeing. If you’re having difficulty adjusting to your life abroad, set aside some time per day when you can Skype or FaceTime someone special from home. That simple connection can make all the difference in the sensations of loneliness and isolation that can come from being away from the people and places you love.

Explore the local culture

While you’re away, try to take some time to enjoy all of the excitement that another culture has to offer. Many of the countries available for international exchange are rich in history, and filled with experiences that will become truly unforgettable, if you allow yourself to become surrounded by their vibrant possibilities. Visit a museum or an art gallery, take a walk through a historical park, and of course, don’t forget to enjoy the exquisite culinary experiences offered by your host country.

Although you may be far away from your friends and family, socialization is an essential part of your physical and mental health, particularly when you’re overseas. Make an effort to connect with other people in your school program and explore your host country together. In addition to studying together, you could visit local street festivals or exhibits together or discover a new favourite café. You may even develop some lifelong friendships over the course of your studies!

Use SAP International services

International students might have different mental health needs, depending on their previous experiences with distance travel and their approach towards cultural change. Each person’s experience abroad is going to be unique, and there will be times when you may need support. Student Assistance Programs are available to help international students in need of mental health services. Additional support while you are studying overseas can make a world a difference.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to a Student Assistance Program provider at any time. Help is always available.

Although studying abroad presents some challenges for a lot of students in terms of adjustment, it can be also a rewarding experience that offers opportunities for your future education and employment. Knowing that SAP services are always available to you, should you need them, you can fully enjoy every moment and unique cultural experience that your host country can provide.


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Maintaining Strong Mental Health During the Holidays

gift-2870161_1920As 2017 comes to an end, we begin to reflect on our year and prepare for the holidays. No doubt you’ve heard the festive music and seen the bright decorations by now. And if you’ve seen any advertisements, they probably feature smiling faces and holiday joy. But with so much cheer all around, this time of year can be a serious strain on one’s mental health. With personal and professional social events to plan and attend, the holidays can intensify feelings of stress, anxiety and depression. That’s why I want to discuss some common causes of stress and anxiety this holiday season, and share tips on how to minimize the negative effects that may result.

Be Careful Not To Take On Too Much

One of the most challenging aspects of the holidays is the pressure to commit significant amounts of money and time. Between gift giving and spending time with family and friends, sometimes it can feel like you’ve bit off more than you can chew. As such, it’s important to commit to both a budget and a schedule this holiday season. By planning a budget in advance and sticking to it, you can avoid unnecessary expenses that will get you into financial trouble.

Furthermore, creating a schedule will ensure that you find the perfect balance between attending holiday events and having personal time for rest and relaxation. Also, don’t feel bad if you can’t attend every party or event you’ve been invited to! People are generally understanding, and they’re likely in the exact same boat as you.

Enjoy the Time You Spend With Family

The holidays offer quality time to spend with family while many have time off from work or school. In certain cases, spending the holidays with family can bring feelings of tension, stress, and sadness. For some families, there may be specific personalities or past differences that could lead to conflict between family members. If this rings true for you, it can be helpful to set boundaries. Try to stay away from certain topics or situations that could become heated, and don’t be afraid to speak up or excuse yourself from a situation that makes you feel uncomfortable.

For other families, the holidays can act as an unfortunate reminder of the loss of a loved one. While the holiday season may be a difficult time, it also offers the opportunity to create new traditions, especially those that honour a loved one and incorporate their interests.

Don’t Forget Your Healthy Habits

Everyone has their own traditions of how they spend the holidays, but there’s usually a couple of activities we indulge in more than at any other time of the year: food and drink, and sometimes, lots of both. While I’m hardly one to take issue with some of the tasty holiday dishes or festive beverages at this time of year, the indulgence can create feelings of guilt and stress.

Try to remember a few healthy habits. For one, eat a healthy snack right before you go to a holiday event. This trick will ensure that you fit in a healthy option, but will also lessen your hunger and thus your urge to indulge in sweets! Pace yourself when it comes to participating in alcohol consumption. Remember that alcohol numbs the senses, as it is a depressant. And of course, I would be remiss not to remind you to always have a designated driver when you’ve been drinking alcohol. Additionally, incorporate some physical activity on your days off. Winter sports or even a walk outside are great forms of exercise to balance out some of the hearty meals you’ll be eating.

While stress and anxiety may feel inevitable during this time of year, it’s important to remember the happiness that comes with it as well. There’s bound to be positive moments in exchanging gifts, enjoying a delicious meal, and spending time with family and friends that you haven’t seen in a while. So if you keep these positives in mind, and follow the aforementioned tips to stay healthy this season, you’ll be sure to enjoy the holiday cheer this December. Happy Holidays!


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LGBT Pride Month: How to Foster Inclusion in the Workplace

IMG_7553.jpegJune is LGBT Pride Month, and I feel this is a great opportunity to discuss why LGBT inclusion in the workplace is important for employee wellness and how employers can foster an environment of inclusion.

According to a recent study by Telus, about one-third of respondents don’t find their workplace safe and inclusive for lesbian and gay employees. In addition, the study found that:

  • 57% per cent of respondents said they’re not fully out at work
  • 22% are worried about a hostile work environment
  • 15% are concerned about losing out on career opportunities
  • 10% are worried about personal safety

Many LGBT individuals facing discrimination in the workplace suffer mental health issues

“LGBT-identified individuals experience higher levels of depression and anxiety, and have higher incidents of suicide,” says Colin Druhan of Pride at Work”. “And the discriminatory treatment they receive from others, including in the workplace, contributes to those statistics. People should feel safe at their job, not afraid of being shamed or harmed. But many LGBT employees choose not to reveal their sexual orientation in their workplace, thinking it will make co-workers uncomfortable, or alienate them. Some fear retaliation.”

What can employers do?

Although many companies have policies regarding inclusion, it is clearly not widespread enough. And while protecting employees from discrimination is both a legal and ethical responsibility for employers, there is often a disconnect between policy and practice. There are many things that you as an employer can do to foster an inclusive work culture that is welcoming to all:

  • Develop company-wide policies regarding inclusion
  • Institute anti-discrimination and harassment policies that address homophobia
  • Promote diversity at work
  • Educate all employees and support lesbian, gay and transgender employees through resource and networking groups
  • As a company, oppose laws that suppress gay rights
  • Take part in community, fundraising and volunteering events that support the LBGT community

Why is diversity important in the workplace?

Diversity promotes and encourages different perspectives and different talents. It can inspire employees to think beyond their own views, push their boundaries, and reduce stigma. I believe we need to create cultures of diversity and inclusion so that everyone feels free and safe to be who they are. Diversity will strengthen your company. It will enhance your recruiting and retention efforts. Employers who fail to create safe, respectful environments risk losing valued employees and clients to more inclusive companies. And according to Pride at Work, the LGBT community has an annual economic impact in Canada of over $100 billion. Doesn’t it make business sense then to promote diversity at work?

Does your company have an inclusion policy in place? How does your company promote diversity and inclusion? Do you actively recruit a diverse workforce?

 

 

 

 


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High-Functioning Depression: The Mental Illness that Hides in Plain Sight

April 7th is World Health Day, and this year’s theme is “Depression: Let’s Talk”. While we have focused quite a bit on the topic of depression in light of “Bell Let’s Talk Day” only being a few weeks ago, I thought I’d discuss an issue that doesn’t get as much attention as it should – high-functioning depression.

Take a minute to think about an employee you talk to every day. You may chat with them about their family, discuss your plans for the weekend, or even joke around with them. Now imagine that on the inside, that employee is suffering from low energy, negative thoughts, and is struggling to keep a smile on their face. This is the reality for people living with high-functioning depression.

Just like regular depression, high-functioning depression results in loss of energy and feelings of hopelessness. The difference is, people with high-functioning depression don’t show any of these symptoms physically. They can go to work in the morning and perform tasks perfectly well. In fact, they could even be one of the highest-performing employees on your team. One could say that the “overachievers should not be overlooked”.

When it comes to high-functioning depression, a person’s outward behaviour doesn’t match the reality of what they are feeling. They plow through to get things done in their personal and professional lives, but are “exhausted”. High-functioning depression has been likened to “running a race with a weighted vest”. Because that vest is “invisible”, the illness often goes unnoticed by friends, family, coworkers, and HR managers.

Although the nature of high-functioning depression makes it difficult to detect, it’s certainly not impossible. There are subtle signs that may help you tell when an employee is suffering. Recognizing the signs can be crucial to preventing the situation from developing, and ensuring support is in place. Let me share with you some of the signs that an employee may have high-functioning depression:

  • Constant self-criticism and/or feelings of low self-worth
  • Place too much pressure on themselves
  • Feel like they are wasting time on the job
  • Feel like they have little life purpose or are lost
  • Feel like they are a nuisance to their family and friends
  • May have substance abuse problems outside of work
  • Worry about the small stuff and are unable to let things go

The feelings associated with these signs are not necessarily manifested on the outside and these signs do not necessarily indicate the presence of high-functioning depression, but glimpses of these signs can be flags for you to offer support.

It’s important for a manager, HR or otherwise, to remember that a mental illness doesn’t have to be seen to be real. Ensuring that you’re checking in with your staff and starting an open dialogue can make all the difference when it comes to helping an employee with high-functioning depression. Employees are more likely to ask for help from their employer when you provide them with a supportive environment.

Do you pay attention to the employees that seem “okay” on the outside? Do you have the support mechanisms in place to encourage open communication?