Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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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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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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Is Social Media Affecting Your Mental Health?

media-998990_640For work or play, social media has become a strong part of our lives, and it is here to stay. Social media allows us to be continuously connected with family, friends and the pulse of business, even while we are busy doing other things! Social media helps us find jobs, events, lets us know what our friends and families are up to, and it links us to news that is happening not only in our community, but literally around the world. Despite social media policies and your organization’s attempts to manage your employees’ use of social media at work, constantly checking in with social media on a regular basis has become the norm in most offices, instead of the exception.

Allowing your employees to access their social sites results in happier employees, which in turn results in increased productivity and retention – but it can also result in anxiety, depression, and overall poor mental health.

Studies have found that Facebook and other social media platforms can negatively affect a user’s mental health. Facebook’s former vice-president for user growth has stated that the platform is slowly destroying how society works by creating short-term dopamine (reward-motivated behaviours). One study discovered that technology is not only addictive, but it can have mental health consequences such as depression, stress and sleep disorder.

Whether they are using it for fun or for business, it is your responsibility to inform your employees that too much social media can have a negative impact on their mental health. So how do we support an employee’s need to interact with social media without jeopardizing their productivity? Below I’ve outlined a few tips to help you help your employees better navigate social media at work and beyond.

Unplug. Researchers have found that unplugging from social media gives your brain the time it needs to recharge before starting a new day. Create a team or individual challenge for your employees by asking them to unplug for a morning, a workday, or 24 hours. You can then regroup with your team and elicit feedback as to the changes they noticed in themselves while being unplugged. If your staff generally comments about not sleeping well, feeling depressed, or just stressed out, give them this challenge to try and see how much better they feel.

Limit usage time. Like distracted driving, engaging in social media throughout the day can also be a distraction from focussing on work. While it is difficult to “police” employees’ connectedness with their personal social media, you can suggest reducing social connection time to breaks and lunch hours only. In fact, inviting staff to use their social media at work judiciously may lead to better trust, honesty, and general happiness among staff, resulting in better mental health.

Personal Connection. Encourage more face-to-face time for your staff. This is not a meeting; rather, it could be a luncheon, a learning session or potluck. These are great ways to build team connections, collaboration, sharing and positively increase the mental health of your team. You can also encourage staff to interact with posts about team promotions beyond a simple “like”. Send them a private message or leave a comment on the post, as being an active user can better your mental health.

While social media is absolutely a powerful tool, like everything else in life, technology should be used in moderation to prevent it from creating or exacerbating mental health problems.

I hope these tips will help guide you on a new path to better mental health for your employees Remember, interacting on social media, limiting time on the platforms, and focusing on encouraging personal connections will positively affect your mental health. What have you done to limit social media time in your workplace?


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“I’ve Graduated – Now What?” Tips on Dealing with the Graduation Blues

Screen Shot 2018-02-20 at 12.38.54 PMStressful exams, excessive coffee, possible home sickness and hefty loans – post-secondary education has been quite the ride for the last few years, but hopefully has, in theory, provided you with the exciting opportunities everyone says awaits you. Many students across the globe expect to obtain a respectable, decent-paying job in their field right after graduation, but is this expectation realistic nowadays?

Undoubtedly, many soon-to-be grads are concerned about what life looks like after graduation. Remember all that support when you left high school to transition to university or college? Those transition supports aren’t so readily available and obvious now that we’re getting ready to graduate from post-secondary school. These are stressful times, with many questioning where you will live (moving back in with parents? ) and how soon can you find a career-focused job (that you like!) to pay off your student loans…and this stress can take a toll on your mental health and the ability to cope.

I’ve been working with students for several years now and have outlined below some tips to help you avoid getting the graduation blues and better enjoy the next phase in your journey:

Talk It Out – Ask your school counselling centre for some referrals to affordable supports in your community. We all need some help as we head into this new world of wonders, and there are a variety of talk therapy and behavioural counselling options out there – change is hard, but asking for help doesn’t need to be. Good friends and family members, particularly ones who have “been there”, can be great supports as well. Discussing options for your future gets things out of your head and become actionable through steps towards your goals.

Freedom is Real – Make a plan for doing something you enjoy, and allow yourself to get excited about it. After all the pressure you’ve been under, give yourself time to adjust, whether it be a trip, shopping, or visiting your friends, get busy doing nothing. Allow yourself some time to just be free and relax, and don’t just sit around dwelling on what is not getting done right away.

Do the Right Thing – So what’s the next step? Sure, it’s easy to just enroll in the Master’s program to put off leaving your safe hub, or taking an internship that pays less than nothing to get some “practical” experience. Stop putting off the inevitable, and just be true to yourself about what job you accept or whether the extra education is worth the extra debt. This is the time to check out what’s out there and not grab the easiest thing. Fear of drifting around is scary, but grabbing the first available option can exacerbate your mental health issues if it’s not the right one, so stick to your guns.

This Is Where You’re At – Accepting that university or college is coming to an end, and you don’t know what comes next, not really, is ok. Typically we spend about 16 straight years in schooling being told to some degree what we can and cannot do, so it’s no wonder we come out not knowing exactly what we are supposed to do. Accept that this is where you are. The power of now. This is a normal stage that most of us go through so allow yourself to readjust and focus on what you need to do for your next journey in the big open world.

With graduation coming up – how are you feeling? Do you have a support system in place for post-graduation? I look forward to hearing from you!


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Marijuana and Mental Health: What You Need to Know

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

Is Marijuana Good for Everyone’s Mental Health?

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

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

Is It Addictive?

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

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

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

Long-term Effects and Vulnerability

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

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