Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


Leave a comment

Taking Action Against Sexual Harassment

GETTY_B_111611_SexualHarassmentOn my blog last week, I posed some questions to get you thinking about your organization’s preparedness for incidences of sexual harassment in the workplace. This week, I want to dive into the actual steps and procedures you must consider when handling these difficult situations.

Recently, greater responsibility has been placed on organizations to identify and support employees who are in a state of distress or exhibiting other emotional issues. But as we all know, it is not always easy to identify these individuals.

If you’re fortunate enough to have an employee come forward, there are a few imminent steps to take.

  • Gather as much detail as possible
  • Determine if immediate medical attention is necessary
  • Determine if the employee is safe or in imminent danger
  • Create a supportive environment
  • Identify resources available to the employee

If you’re having concerns about an employee, but they’ve not come forward, there are still necessary actions you should take.

  • Monitor their behavior over a period of time (specifically mood patterns, performance, and attendance)
  • Keep records with dates and situations of observed behaviours
  • When sufficient information is gathered, you should approach the individual to discuss the concerns in a private and confidential manner
  • Create a supportive environment
  • Remind the employee of the resources available to everyone and how to access them

The sad reality is Domestic Violence is the fastest growing type of workplace violence in Canada. Not only does Domestic Violence affect the victim, it can impact the entire workplace, through absenteeism, lowered productivity, and safety concerns for the victim and his/her coworkers.

We all contribute to making the workplace a safe, supportive place, so understand your role and make sure you’re doing your part.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Advice for Parents of New University and College Students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Leave a comment

Part 3 of 3: Our Call to Action

your_not_aloneZiggy Marley once said, “I believe we are all connected to other people. I am connected to people who are suffering. We all are.”

One of the biggest obstacles to strong mental health is the overwhelming sense of loneliness felt by our university and college-aged students. As I mentioned in the previous instalments of this 3-part blog series, while our students are more “connected” to the world via social media and their mobile devices, these same students are feeling crippling loneliness and a general lack of coping skills in their lives, as they often have not developed an identity separate from their parents or a strong sense of independence.

Chris Hadfield, Canadian astronaut and now-celebrity is always asked if he was lonely in space. His response was that you can be hundreds of thousands miles away from Earth and feel connected to people and the universe, and, at the same time, you can also be living in the centre of a metropolitan city and feel like the loneliest person in the world. A myth endures, which allows us to assume university and college students living away from home could never be lonely in dorms with thousands of other students “partying” all the time. However, they could very well be the loneliest people on Earth.

As parents, teachers, counsellors, siblings and peers of this demographic, what can we do to better support our students? We are beginning to understand the prevalence of mental health issues in Canada and how our current resources are exhausted from the increased demand. It could take years for the health care system to implement a structure that places mental health as a higher priority, so what are the steps we can take at a grassroots level to help students and the greater community now?

Below, you will find a list of collaborations and ideas that are already being set in motion by influential Canadian industries. And you might ask yourself, how can I, as one person, make any sort of impact? Like anything, if you look to hard at the big picture, beginning the process of finding a solution can seem too overwhelming. So I’ve included ways you can support these overarching goals in your community, your workplace or even in your home.

Collaboration: Recently, the Mental Health Commission of Canada embarked on a two-day conference with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police because, more and more the police force has become first responders in mental health crises. This partnership speaks to the new understanding that working together is the only way to move forward when a problem has as many touch points in society as mental health does.

In your own environments, encourage similar collaboration with mental health as your frame of reference. This can be achieved in different ways, from a professor-student-staff initiative within the university setting or organizing representatives from various departments in your workplace to avoid working in silos.

Education: The ultimate purpose of collaboration is to educate one another and to share resources. Every Canadian stakeholder is focused on the goal to improve the accessibility and support of those who suffer from mental health issues, from the health industry, to the government, to the education system. Each has valuable information to share and ways to support people suffering from mental illness.

Seek education on how to engage someone with a mental illness, learn to look for warning signs and changes and encourage others to do the same. We are often afraid of what we don’t understand, which is why we might feel like we wouldn’t know how to address someone who is suffering. With education behind you, you can feel confident in supporting someone through a difficult time.

Connectedness: A sense of belonging and a strong personal network are tools that help people with mental health issues feel less alone in their situation. As a society, we value individualism and privacy, but perhaps the pursuit of these ideas have moved us too far away from the strength gained from an environment based on community values. Universities and colleges have placed a greater focus on connecting students with their peers, providing forums to reach out in and raising awareness of the resources that are available.

Engage in conversation with people in your life and seek to understand their perspective. Find ways to stay present in face-to-face experiences, despite the temptation to “connect” via your devices and various social networks. Learn to notice small changes in behaviour, attitude and performance in those around you and don’t be afraid to ask someone how they are doing. You might be the only person who has shown them that kind of care in a while.

How else can we support our students as they learn to cope with the pressures of university? Where do you think the changes need to begin – At the top with governments and health care, or at the bottom within our homes, schools and communities, or both? I look forward to your comments below!


Leave a comment

Future Leaders Deserve Greater Access to Mental Health Resources

Helping HandThis month, a student from Guelph University in Ontario, live-streamed his attempted suicide on the Internet to a chat room of viewers. The student was rescued by emergency services and survived his injuries, however, this episode raises extremely concerning questions about the apparent hopelessness and desperation that is leading young people to believe suicide is their only option.

Since no two suicidal circumstances are the same, the reasons for someone reaching this unfortunate conclusion vary from person to person. The university and college demographic share some overarching qualities that could contribute to a pattern of poor coping skills in this age group, including but not limited to:

  • Family and self-imposed academic expectations are unrealistically high
  • Difficult transition from living at home to living on their own
  • Inability to cope with exam pressure
  • Financial debt and student loans
  • Career and future economic success not guaranteed

While the reasons surrounding this Guelph student’s attempt are not publicly known, this case speaks to a much larger issue facing young Canadians, and the statistics in recent years are quite alarming:

  • Worldwide, youth suicides has tripled since 1950 for the 15-24 age group
  • In Canada, suicide is the 2nd highest cause of death for youth ages 19-24
  • In Canada, 300 youths die every year by suicide
  •  For every successful suicide, there are 400 attempts
  • New research shows that students are more likely to have suicidal ideation if they went to school with someone who died by suicide
  • Eight out of ten youth who attempt or die by suicide hint of their plans beforehand, often to a friend.*

This last statistic is a call to action for many of the resources available on campuses – If someone is able to pick up on a suicidal person’s cues and  learn of their intentions, there is a chance the suicide could be prevented, especially if professional help is quickly accessible. Most universities and colleges are equipped with Student Health Services, Professional Counsellors, Peer Networks, Student Support Associations and Community Resources.

These services offer quality assistance to those in need and have helped countless students overcome their personal obstacles, but the question remains: are they enough? Unfortunately, most of these services are only available during the school year and during working hours, which leaves students with limited options after hours, on weekends and during the summer months. The wait for students to see counsellors has increased, on average, to three-weeks and with campus resources working at their maximum capacity already, the demand for service is not being met sufficiently with existing internal resources.

What can you do to better meet the needs of your students? A Student Assistance Program is an opportunity to fill any gaps in the current internal student support systems by offering increased accessibility to a breadth of expert mental health services. Offering a preventative Student Assistance Program can provide students with access to psychological counselling before a full-blown crisis occurs.  A Student Assistance Program can also provide auxiliary services for legal, financial, nutrition, and lifestyle issues which can help mitigate the deleterious impact on the psychological well being of the student. Success in this endeavour has been demonstrated with collaboration between internal campus resources and external professional services by offering mental health resources that complement and augment existing internal resources. Implementing a fiscally responsible Student Assistance Program gives the gift of choice to your students, allowing them to take advantage of both campus and external mental health services around the clock. University and College stakeholders can rest easier knowing they are providing students more comprehensive care.

Don’t our future leaders deserve greater access, choice and expertise to support them through their mental health journey?

Have you implemented an SAP into your institution to complement services that already exist? What benefits have you seen with an SAP? I look forward to your thoughts below!

(* Statistics courtesy of Stats Canada, Canadian Mental Health Association and Canadian Medical Association Journal)


Leave a comment

Engage, Don’t Enable: Confronting alcoholism in your employees

AlcoholismAs Rob Ford weathers the storm of his alleged substance abuse problem, there needs to be something we can learn from his experience other than to choose the people you surround yourself with wisely. The Toronto mayor is certainly not the only person whose drinking habits have been called to attention in the workplace. As alcohol abuse becomes one of the greatest health threats to Canadians in recent years, employers must prepare themselves to engage in dialogue about this disease and become familiar with signs that an employee might be suffering.

Technically, drinking habits may be the personal business of your employees, but once a substance dependence problem emerges, it will inevitably affect business. Absenteeism, on-the-job injury and accidents, missed deadlines and poor workplace conduct are only a few of the detrimental outcomes of alcoholism, and the employer has a responsibility to address it as an issue once productivity is compromised.

Maintaining the welfare of your company and your employee’s health as main priorities is good business, and there are strategies you can implement in your company  to help you, the employer, mitigate the costs  of substance abuse. 1.

  1. Ensure that you have clearly communicated your expectations for conduct and performance in the workplace. Only with these expectations in place can you effectively measure when employees are failing to meet company standards.
  2. Schedule regular feedback and review meetings to promote a culture of improvement and transparency with individual employees. Having frequent dialogue will make it easier to broach any changes or declines in performance you may observe.
  3. Learn to recognize changes in performance, attendance and work relationships. Alcohol dependence can affect an employee’s ability to carry out commitments, meet deadlines and maintain healthy relationships at work. Knowing your employees well will help you more easily identify changes in their performance that could be brought on by substance abuse.
  4. Keep thorough records of observations. Ensure that you make note of incidents as they occur so that you are able to better record trends and patterns that support your concerns.
  5. Contact a representative of your EAP for support. A consultation with the EAP  will help you initiate difficult conversations and make available various resources.
  6. Be prepared to address  the issue with your employee.  Compare what you are currently observing with the employee’s performance against what the job expectations are.
  7. Set a measurable action plan with the employee that articulates the corrective action required to improve the work performance and include a time frame for the desired outcomes to be achieved.  Encourage the employee to access the EAP for support in executing the plan.   Be clear that failure to change the performance or conduct and seek help could result in disciplinary measures or dismissal.  Have the employee sign off on the document.
  8. Continue follow-up with additional conversations as necessary, including meeting with the employee on the formal review date (as set out in #7 above).

 

Although it might be uncomfortable to address such a sensitive issue with an employee, having a list of resources available (EAP) beforehand will assist you with offering support.

Your involvement could make a significant difference in the quality of someone’s work and personal life, thereby increasing your productivity as an organization

Have you ever seen the benefits of someone seeking help and returning to the workplace?  I look forward to hearing about your experiences in the comments below.