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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Getting the Most Out of Your Employee & Student Assistance Programs: A 4-Part Series

adult-american-black-and-white-935870As the founder of Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and Student Assistance Program (SAP) services, I am often surprised to learn that when people hear the words “EAP” and “SAP” the first thing they typically think of is psychological counselling services. You may be surprised to know that there is so much more that these services have to offer.

In fact, it is so important that you understand all the services that are available to you through your EAP or SAP services that I have decided to dedicate a quarterly blog series outlining what we at Aspiria call specialized solutions – additional services that are available through EAPs and SAPs.

To get us started, I have highlighted a few EAP services that greatly improve work environments by benefitting employees and their family:

 

Elder and Child Care

Taking care of a loved one, whether they are an aging parent or a newborn child, can sometimes feel like a full-time job, and unconditional love doesn’t always make the job any easier. What employers can do to make their employees’ home life easier is offer elder and child care services through their EAP.

Elder care speaks to caregivers, seniors, and everyone who is proactively planning for their future. Our EAPs offer information about Canadian systems available to the elderly as well as the essentials regarding housing options. We also educate employees on common physical and mental changes that often develop with age and what they can do to minimize these changes.

For younger employees that are considering starting a family or have already begun that chapter of their lives, Aspiria’s EAPs offer many services related to child care. Here are just a few family-oriented services we can provide through an EAP at no expense to parents:

  • Parenting provides information to parents of all different experience levels with kids of all different ages. This information can be anything parenting-related, from raising your child’s self-esteem to keeping backseat chaos to a minimum.
  • Adoption helps employees throughout the entire adoption process, including the legal and financial aspects, special parenting needs of adopted children, and information on how to find their child’s birth parents.
  • Kids’ Well-Being offers tips to keep children safe and sound from infancy through to young adulthood, with an emphasis on health, safety, and a positive interaction with the world around them.

To ensure your employees find a better work-life balance, direct them to their EAP, which will encourage them to live a healthy, happy life well into old age and help them reduce stresses that come from taking care of an aging family member or raising children.

 

OnCallogic

Studies have found that 40% of people diagnosed with cancer experience symptoms of psychological distress. This is why many EAPs provide organizations with much-needed mental health support for employees affected by cancer, but Aspiria goes even further. We partnered with Gilda’s Club – a leader in an international network of cancer support organizations that has over 20,000 interactions per year with individuals living with cancer – to develop our OnCallogic service.

OnCallogic includes a series of counselling sessions with Cancer Coaching Specialists for employees who have been touched by cancer, whether directly (they have cancer) or indirectly (a loved one has cancer), to ensure that no one has to face a cancer diagnosis alone. The OnCallogic mission is to ensure that all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action, and sustained by community and professional support.

It is estimated that nearly 1 in 2 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their life. With the disease being so commonplace in today’s workplace, it has become all the more essential to offer employees expert cancer support services. Not only will OnCallogic ease their difficult circumstances, but it also helps guide them towards living with cancer, whatever the outcome.

 

WorkLife Web Portal

Of today’s youth, the employees of tomorrow, 68% say they would use the Internet to search for mental health information if they needed to, making online access to resources more important than ever. It is for this reason that Aspiria connects employees to the work-life balance information they need at the click of a button and allows them to communicate with Work-Life Consultants 24/7 over instant messaging.

Our WorkLife Web Portal, accessible through the Aspiria website, provides access to the following seven life modules:

  • Aging
  • Balancing
  • Living
  • Working
  • Thriving
  • Parenting
  • International

 

Each of these modules offer “digital kits” on a large number of topics that employees and their family members can relate to, no matter what stage of life they’re in. These kits include informative articles, assessments, and audio files.

By offering an EAP that includes online accessibility to important tools and resources, you allow your employees more ease than ever before to achieve a proper work-life balance.

For more details on these work-life services and everything else your EAP has to offer, contact your provider today. And keep an eye out for our next instalment of Getting More Out of Your Assistance Program next quarter!


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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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Suicide in the Media: Making Your Feelings Your Own

woman-1006100_1280As you may have heard, the world has lost two iconic celebrities to suicide in the past two weeks: Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Although an average of 11 suicides are committed every day in Canada, we tend to pay more attention to the subject when the media covers celebrity deaths.

With news stories reporting more and more information about celebrities, their families, and the state of their mental health, you may find yourself comparing your life and state of mind to theirs. Since the suicide rate increased by 10% in the United States shortly after Robin Williams took his life, how can we prevent the same from happening after every celebrity suicide?

We sometimes find it difficult to understand why celebrities, who seem to have the world as their oyster, would commit suicide. If we are having difficulties with work, money, or love, and it seems that celebrities have everything going for them, why is their life less worth living than ours?

At the risk of sounding cliché, money may make things easier, but it does not buy happiness. Regardless of one’s financial or social status, experiencing difficulties with mental health has no boundaries. Celebrities face several roadblocks on the path to happiness, just as we might. No matter how many news stories are posted, detailing facts (or rumours) about a person of interest, we can never truly know a celebrity’s complete story. Their experiences and difficulties are their own; just because they are famous doesn’t mean their problems are any more or less important than yours or mine.

One recommendation I have to cope with the influx of celebrity suicide coverage in the media is to avoid applying “should” to your feelings or those of other people. For example, “I should be miserable because my life is worse than Anthony Bourdain’s.” There is no “should” when it comes to emotions. You feel the way that you feel, and there is a reason for it. Whether or not you know or understand that reasoning, your feelings are just as valid as anybody else’s.

If recent events have helped you recognize that you have difficulties managing your mental health, I ask you to seek help. If you are unsure where your mental health stands, let the passing of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain be your push to talk to someone. Check in with your 24/7 Employee or Student Assistance Program, reach out to a friend or a family member, or call one of many available 24-hour suicide hotlines.

And please don’t forget to follow up with your loved ones who may be affected by sensationalized media coverage of celebrity suicides. Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression, and let your friends, family, and coworkers know that no one is alone.


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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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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?


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Women and Wellness in the Workplace

This past March 8th was National Women’s Day. It was a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women all around the world. Although it was only one short day, I think it’s great that we are taking the time to acknowledge all the wonderful things that women have accomplished.

One accomplishment that stands out to me is the growing number of women in the workplace. It’s fantastic that in 2014, women made up almost half of the labour force compared to just 37% in 1976.

While it augurs well that more and more companies are hiring female employees, it does bring with it a new set of mental health matters that an HR manager should consider. Although mental health affects everyone, women experience more stress, anxiety, and depression at work than men do. In fact, research has found that women are 1.4 times more likely to suffer from these mental illnesses than their male colleagues.

I’d like to share with you two main reasons why women in the workplace suffer mental health issues more than men, as well as some solutions you can use to help minimize them at your workplace.

Domestic Responsibilities

When women consider the choice to start a family, enter the workforce or return to work after having children, care for elderly parents, or pursue advancement within their career, they are considering work-life balance. Although working husbands and fathers have taken on more familial responsibilities over the years, women still tend to take on the majority of these responsibilities. Juggling career pressures with family obligations can increase risks of stress, anxiety, and even depression.

So how can managers give women the support they need? Providing programs that offer greater work-life balance is the key. This balance means different things to different families, but could include encouraging flexible working hours, allowing telecommuting, and implementing child-care services. I know it may not always be possible to establish these family-friendly services, but an important thing you can do is to be more accommodating and ask the women in your organization what would be helpful to them. Making small changes to your mindset can go miles in positively impacting the wellbeing of the women in your workplace.

Inequality 

Even though we have seen quite a positive improvement in women joining the labour force, many women still experience inequality in their career. One study shows that women earn about 26% less than men do. On top of still receiving lower pay, women also face higher levels of job insecurity as well as lack of career advancement. Unsurprisingly, this causes high rates of anxiety, depression, and distress among female workers. A large part of wellness is equality, so a valuable step you can take is to ensure that your workplace enforces pay equity.

To encourage female leadership, many companies are rewarding behaviours such as nurturing and communication. When an organization develops feelings of pride, trustworthiness, and respect, as well as welcoming ideas and building good fellowship, it will encourage women to move past the glass ceiling and create a foundation that can reduce stress and mental health issues in the workplace.

Making sure your organization has the tools in place to foster understanding and equality can make all the difference to female employees.  Checking in with them to see what more your company can do to retain happy, healthy staff is vital to their overall well-being.

Are you giving the women in your workplace the support they need?