Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Human Right’s Day Spotlight: Gender Identity

trans-sexuality-3554250_1920The conversation surrounding gender identity in the workplace is becoming increasingly important. As International Human Rights Day approaches, I find myself thinking about the suicide rate amongst transgender individuals; over 78% of the trans community have reported contemplating suicide at one point in their lives. December 10th marks a day when we can all reflect upon what we can do to better support the mental wellbeing of our trans and non-binary community.

It’s crucial to make people of every gender identity feel comfortable and safe in your work environment. Here are some tips that you can use to offer mental health support for your trans and genderqueer employees:

Have a workplace diversity policy 

Part of supporting people of different gender identities is making sure that you have a balanced work environment that represents people from across the gender spectrum. It’s your responsibility as an employer to make sure that trans and non-binary people have their needs met in your workplace culture. This is especially true with providing opportunities to new hires. Making an effort to include more trans and genderqueer individuals on your team will serve to strengthen your overall dynamic and offer new opportunities for growth.

Install a gender-neutral washroom

Washroom options for employees who don’t subscribe to either gender have been a subject of debate for years. However, a gender-neutral washroom is essential for the comfort and safety of anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable using a male or female washroom. This change is a crucial step towards creating an atmosphere of gender equality in any work environment, as well as showing your employees of all genders that you care about their wellbeing and security. Although this may not always be possible, speak with your employee about their specific needs and see if an agreement can be made to better accommodate them.

Implement a non-gendered dress code

Many people like to express their gender identity in various ways, including makeup, hairstyling, and manner of dress. A gender-neutral dress code allows for any person to express their gender identity in whatever manner they desire, without the fear of being reprimanded or excluded. Consider amending your dress code to allow for clothing choices that are not gender biased.

Your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider will also have some valuable tips on supporting the mental health needs of all trans and genderqueer employees, including medical referrals, family counselling services, and personal counselling services.

If your employees are dealing with mental health issues as a result of gender-based bullying or harassment, speak to your Supervisor, HR department, or get in contact with your EAP immediately.

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Relieve the Stresses of Crunch-Time With Creativity!

painting-911804_1920With final projects and exams approaching, it’s important to find healthy ways to relieve stress. Research has shown that creative hobbies can help maintain a level of relaxation, personal enrichment, and productivity up until the last project or paper is submitted.

I’ve found that creative hobbies provide the perfect outlet to de-stress and decompress. Here are some creative forms of expression that have multiple mental health benefits to offer you peace of mind during busy periods at school:

Visual Arts 

Painting and drawing are two of the most relaxing hobbies that you can take up. There’s no way to get it wrong, so you can feel completely at ease with creating anything that fits your imagination. Conversely, photography can be a way of enjoying the visual arts by allowing your creative passions to be channelled into capturing inspiring images on camera. Best of all, with the accessibility of smartphone technology and online purchasing, these forms of creative expression are incredibly cost-effective.

Crafting

Arts and crafts are hugely popular right now – even with adults. This can encompass anything and everything with supplies that range from items purchased at an art supply store, to things that you discover in your own backyard. As an additional bonus, there’s evidence that engaging in forms of “play” (e.g. fun things you enjoyed doing as a child), has an incredibly positive effect on your health and wellness.

Music

Music can enhance the creative brain in a powerful way, both by listening and playing it. Community dance classes are an exciting and challenging way of expressing yourself through movement, as well as being a fun form of exercise. Playing an instrument, or even listening to music on your iPod are also ways of experiencing the psychological and emotional benefits of having music enhance your creative energy.

Writing

Leave the academic writing at the door, pick up a pen, and try your hand at creative writing. Expressing your thoughts and feelings through poetry, storytelling, and journalling is a rewarding way of getting out any frustrations and transforming them into something positive. To really benefit from this creative medium, try writing every day, even if it’s only a few words. You may be surprised at the rewarding long-term effects.

Colour Therapy

We all remember how much fun it was to dive into a colouring book as a child, but there’s evidence supporting the theory that colour therapy can be a relaxing hobby for adults as well. Used as a “mindfulness practice”, colour therapy isn’t just an excellent way of reducing stress; it can also serve as a form of meditation. As a huge bonus, you’ll get the same benefits as you would by sitting in meditative stillness, such as improved focus, memory, and restfulness.

For more expert tips to get through the rest of exam season, contact your Student Assistance Program provider to address any concerns and discuss available options. 

 

 


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Getting the Most Out of Your Employee & Student Assistance Programs: Part 2

desk-discussing-discussion-1311518.jpgLast time on our Getting the Most Out of Your Employee & Student Assistance Programs quarterly blog series, we discussed a few of Aspiria’s specialized solutions that breathe new life into work environments by benefitting employees and their families. However, we can’t forget that Aspiria has also provided SAP services to the college and university student market since 2011!

Here are a few specialized solutions that are available through both our EAP and SAP services to benefit employees and students alike:

Nutritional Counselling

Aspiria knows that healthy, active employees and students enjoy a higher quality of life. In today’s busy lifestyle, having a healthy and well-balanced diet is often difficult for many people to maintain; who can say no to leftover Halloween candy? Our professional nutritionists will work with employees, their family members, or students in a face-to-face setting to identify health goals and create customized plans to address any nutrition-based concerns they may have, including weight loss, food preferences, lowering cholesterol, regulating diabetes, and healthy eating on the go.

Legal Counselling

When employees or students experience emotional hardships, sometimes they can be a result of or lead to legal components that require immediate attention. Aspiria’s free legal consultation services provide in-person or telephonic legal advice in several areas of law, including personal, separation and divorce, custody, impaired driving, domestic violence, and civil. Please note that no legal advice is offered for labour-law situations due to any potential conflict of interest. What’s especially helpful about Aspiria’s legal services is that employees or students that wish to retain a lawyer referred to them by Aspiria will receive a discount of up to 25% on those services.

Financial Counselling

Aspiria’s financial education solutions offer bilingual, unbiased counselling and planning services in a combination of online and live individual and group settings. We help employers and schools implement customized financial education programs from start to finish, helping employees and students prepare for a brighter financial future, reducing the negativity associated with financial stress. We also work with you to design a communication strategy to inform your employees or students of the program to ensure its success.

For more details on these specialized solutions and everything else your EAP or SAP has to offer, contact your provider today and follow us on Facebook. And keep an eye out for our next instalment of Getting More Out of Your Assistance Program in the new year!


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Good Grades vs. Social Life – You Can Have Both!

image-from-rawpixel-id-401332-jpegDo you ever feel like you’re performing a juggling act, trying to meet all of your needs and wants at the same time? With work, school, friends, and family, just one more time commitment thrown into the mix might make it all come crashing down.

I’ve seen firsthand just how busy and chaotic the lives of students can be, resulting in inner turmoil and loneliness. And I understand that it may sometimes feel like you have no choice but to let either your grades slip or social life dwindle, especially in 1st year when everything you experience is new! However, there are some ways you can keep both:

Organize Study Groups

Whether you’re taking online or in-person courses, there are many options to host or attend effective study groups. Most libraries allow students to book private rooms, or you can meet at somebody’s house or a common area on campus. For online study groups, consider creating a Facebook group that’s only accessible to people that are invited. Study groups are great opportunities to focus on course material and provide opportunities for socializing for the following reasons:

  • Never Miss a Class. In case you ever need to miss a class due to illness or personal reasons, your study group will always be available to share their notes with you.
    • Pro Tip: Consider enrolling in a course with a friend! Most, if not all, post-secondary programs require a certain number of elective courses. So even if you and your friend are enrolled in different programs, you can still spend quality time with them in the classroom or lecture hall.
  • Mingle Afterwards. Once the group has covered the relevant material for the week, why not suggest that you all hang out afterwards for a meal, movie, or board game? This approach will allow you to effectively use your time for both school and pleasure!

Join Program-Specific Clubs

Most post-secondary schools have dozens or even hundreds of clubs or other extra-curriculars you can join. Some might be purely for fun, and others might be more applicable to your studies. If you don’t find a club that interests you, start your own! These are great ways to feel like a part of the school community while also improving your academics for the following reasons:

  • Build Your Resume. If you join a student organization or club that has elected positions, such as president or treasurer, holding such titles can look impressive to some employers. Even just being a regular member shows that you have passion.
  • Explore Off Campus. Many clubs organize field trips or social gatherings outside of their regularly scheduled meetings on campus. These might fulfill your social needs more than study groups.

Set a Schedule

For non-campus activities like going to the movies, out to dinner, or out on the town with friends, you may want to create an online calendar you can access from your computer and phone. Outlook and Google Calendar are just a few options available. This way you can always keep track of your responsibilities and time commitments, including projects, study times, club meetings, and social gatherings. Glancing at your calendar is also a quick and easy way to ensure you don’t overcommit and overwhelm yourself.

You can also free up more time throughout the school year by taking a couple of courses during the summer. If your typical course load during the spring and fall is five courses each, you can decrease it to four by taking two summer courses. Schools that offer summer classes allow you the option to spread out and dilute the stress – and increase the enjoyment – of your program.

If you need a little extra help finding a balance between your social life and academics and learning how you can incorporate both into your everyday routine, contact your Student Assistance Program provider.


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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 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.