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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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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World Suicide Prevention Day: Suicide in the Workplace

Suicide Prevention.jpgSuicide is an incredible tragedy, at any age or stage of life. In the past, I’ve discussed the growing rate of suicide among young adults – teenagers in particular. However, suicide can touch anyone and sadly, suicide rates in the workplace are on the rise. September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. I think it is so important that we bring suicide out of the shadows and discuss what part we can play in preventing suicide in the workplace.

Is suicide a problem in the Canadian workplace?

You may not realize how prevalent suicide is in our workplaces and the numbers of Canadians affected by suicide are staggering. According to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP):

  • It’s estimated that more than 3,000,000 Canadians have been affected by suicide
  • It’s likely that many people in every workplace have known someone who has died by suicide
  • Suicide is the leading cause of injury-related death in Canada
  • Working-aged men and women represent one of the highest risk groups for suicide
  • Men of working age die by suicide 3 to 4 times more often than women
  • Women are hospitalized for suicide-related behaviour 1.5 times more often than men
  • Although suicide deaths affect almost all age groups, middle-aged men (40 to 59) have the highest rates

Why is workplace suicide on the rise?

Many attribute the rise in workplace suicide to globalization which has really altered the way we work. Job insecurity, the shift to contract workers, unrealistic targets and deadlines, the pressure to produce profit and the abandonment of any work/life balance are all contributors.

What can you do to prevent suicide in your workplace?

There are many things that you can do to prevent suicide and promote mental health in your workplace:

  • Promote information and resources on suicide prevention, intervention and postvention (suicide bereavement)
  • Create a caring work environment
  • Reduce the stigma that accompanies suicide
  • Give your managers and employees the right tools to be able to identify and support employees at risk of suicide
  • Once at-risk behaviour is recognized, act on it – make sure your employee gets the appropriate help, work on reducing stress levels, perhaps flexible hours or working from home…
  • Ensure that employees that are bereaved by suicide get the help that they need
  • Encourage help-seeking behaviours
  • Establish a response protocol in the event of a suicide or suicide attempt at work

What are the benefits to becoming a suicide-safer workplace?

There are many great reasons for becoming a suicide-safer workplace:

  • The number 1 reason is that you could be saving lives!
  • Workplaces injuries and absences will be reduced
  • A happy and healthy workforce is more productive
  • A compassionate and psychologically safe workplace inspires employees to be their best

It’s important for every company to play their part in suicide prevention. Does your company have a suicide prevention program in place? You can make a difference.


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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)