Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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World Mental Health Day: What is Psychological First Aid?

On Monday, October 10th, we celebrated World Mental Health Day. Every year, the World Health Organization (WHO) dedicates a day to raise awareness for the millions of people all over the world who are dealing with mental health issues. As someone who has worked in the mental health field for over 25 years, I can’t begin to express how pleased I am that we now have a day dedicated to mental health awareness, globally. For a large part of my career, mental health issues were often stigmatized and hidden from the world, but as society has progressed, we are now able to more openly discuss these issues.

This year, the WHO chose “Psychological First Aid” as the World Mental Health Day theme. When we think first aid, we often picture either a first aid kit or a first responder like a police officer or firefighter. Psychological first aid is different. Instead of quickly responding to and healing physical injuries, psychological first aid is a practice that involves treating people for psychological damage after traumatic incidents.

Psychological first aid (PFA) is defined as “the evidence-informed approach for assisting people in the aftermath of disaster and terrorism.” PFA occurs when trained individuals quickly assess a person’s mental health after an incident, and can help them remain calm and get them the psychological assistance they need, as opposed to letting them deal with the traumatic event on their own. For example, PFA is often utilized when people in a war-torn nation have been subjected to a violent event. Field workers who specialize in the subject are brought in to help the people who have witnessed the trauma, and have been trained to give them the proper psychological attention they need.

We live in a world where, unfortunately, traumatic events occur. War, natural disasters and violence occur frequently all over the globe. On a smaller scale, accidents can happen in our own communities that leave us mentally shaken.

For example, a recent train derailment in New Jersey resulted in the death of a woman waiting on the platform. This shocking incident would have been traumatic for not only those directly involved, but for anyone connected to the situation. After an event like this occurs, it’s crucial to assess the physical health of all those involved, but neglecting to treat them immediately for psychological trauma can result in long-lasting scars on a person’s mental health.

Say one of your colleagues witnesses a horrific car crash on their way to work. Once they get to the office, they attempt to go about their day, business as usual, instead of processing the intense emotions they feel after witnessing that event. If internalized for too long, this employee might suffer from long-term mental health issues as a result, such as post-traumatic stress disorder or anxiety. It’s important that HR managers have the knowledge to deal with a situation like this as fast as possible.

Training for psychological first aid is similar to that of physical first aid, in that you need to take a course in order to be properly trained. For those HR managers who have not yet taken the course, here are a few “first-steps” on how you can help someone who has just been through a crisis:

After assessing the environment for safety concerns and familiarizing yourself with the event that has taken place:

  1. Make contact. It’s important that you approach this person respectfully. It’s hard to judge what they might be thinking at that moment, as they will most likely be experiencing shock. As you carefully begin talking to them, let them know you are here to help and will keep them safe.
  1. Ask about needs and concerns. While this may seem obvious in some situations, it’s important to ask what they need at that moment and what their priorities are. If they need to make a call, you can help facilitate that.
  2. This is the most important step of PFA. If the employee is willing to talk, it’s crucial that you listen to what they have to say. Talking about a traumatic event can be difficult but it allows people to feel less alone.
  3. Refer them to your organization’s EAP. They have the tools to handle these kinds of situations, and will be able to assist your employee throughout the healing process.

Traumatic events don’t just impact the people directly involved. If someone in your office has been through a crisis, it can impact the entire workplace. Unfortunately, we live in a world where accidents happen. I’m so pleased that World Mental Health Day has been able to spotlight this necessary training. It’s important that HR managers know the basic principles of PFA, in case they ever need to utilize it in their workplace and help an employee through a difficult situation.

 

 


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4 Reasons Why You Need A Workplace Crisis Intervention Plan

pic_rippleeffectIn light of the recent events in La Loche, Saskatchewan, we are reminded of the importance of crisis intervention when disaster strikes and the problems that can arise. It is essential that workplaces think about implementing a crisis intervention plan. Crisis intervention refers to the methods that are used to offer immediate and short-term help to individuals who experience an event that generates emotional, mental, physical and behavioural distress or problems.

Employees who are not directly involved in the event can feel the ripple effect of a workplace trauma. Ensure your plan is inclusive of all your employees as any event can severely dampen (or hamper) the productivity of the workplace. With over 25 years of crisis intervention experience, I’d like to share with you 4 key reasons why you need crisis intervention in your workplace:

  1. Decreases the intensity of individuals’ reactions to a crisis, or return to their level of functioning before the crisis.

Research has demonstrated that crisis intervention training has positive outcomes such as decreased stress and improved problem solving. Decreasing the intensity of their reactions allows individuals to be able to cope with future difficulties. It aims to help in the prevention of serious long-term problems. This will have a positive impact on workplace performance and increase work life balance for your employees.

  1. Decreases the amount of absenteeism and potential turnover.

Individuals are more open to receiving help during a crisis. Crisis intervention is conducted in a supportive manner and the intervention’s duration is dependent on the person and situation. Adults and children alike can all benefit from this type of assistance, which can take place in a wide range of settings. Implementing this help following a crisis can be of benefit by decreasing the intensity of affected employees’ reaction to the event, resulting in less sick time, leaves of absences and/or terminations.

  1. Educates and encourages employees during times of crisis.

The success of crisis intervention is dependent on affected employees learning that their reactions to the event are real and that others are going through a similar experience (ie. validation). It is the goal for employees to learn that their responses to the abrupt and irregular crisis that has just occurred are predictable, temporary and normal (ie. normalization). It is encouraging and reassuring to employees to know that their employer cares. If management is seen as supportive, employees are more likely to succeed.

  1. Allow employees to explore and develop coping strategies.

The aftermath of a crisis can induce feelings that people are unable to deal with. Crisis intervention can help with coping strategies that allow for a positive workplace. It allows for options for social support or spending time with people who provide a feeling of comfort and caring. Reviewing the changes that an individual has made and proving that it is possible to cope, are beneficial to recovery.

The problem solving process involves:

  • Understanding the problem (validation and normalization) and the desired changes
  • Considering alternatives
  • Discussing the pros and cons of alternative solutions
  • Selecting a solution and developing a plan to try it out
  • Understanding that coping with crisis is a process that can take time
  • Evaluating the outcome

Making positive and realistic plans for the future whether in employees’ personal lives or at work is crucial and employers should be providing training for management to aid employees.

Are you prepared to manage a crisis situation? How would you accommodate your employees who are suffering and raise the awareness of treatment for this?


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Feeling Safe

SafetyMainAs I write this blog, I am reminded that today is Remembrance Day, a day dedicated to the men and women in Canada who lost their lives fighting for our freedom and safety.

In the past month, Canada has been rocked by incidents of violence toward our country and accusations of harassment in the workplace. Victims have come forward and shared their stories with the media and in turn, the public. Where we live and work should be a space that should make us feel safe and comfortable. It is a human right in a free society to feel safe. At work, the Human Rights Code, Workplace Violence and Harassment Legislation and the Criminal Code, are safety laws available to employees, yet harassment in the workplace are covered up for years, and still continues.

There are ways we can help create an environment that does not tolerate wrongful treatment of others, but also provides the resources should harassment issues still arise.

Every employee has the right to be treated with respect and has a responsibility to treat others with respect. If a person feels that he or she is being harassed, they should talk to someone that they trust, whether it be a co-worker, a family member or an employee in the human resources department, if one exists. It is important to document these incidents, and inform employees of the policies the employer has in place.

Harassment poisons the entire workplace and affects employee morale and productivity. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do as an employer or person of influence to keep your work environment safe and respectful:

  1. Clear Expectations
  • Make sure that the expectations in your workplace are clear – harassment of any kind will not be tolerated.
  1. Monitor the Atmosphere
  • Pay attention to the tone of interactions and comments made between co-workers and the use of offensive emails, inappropriate comments, derogatory language or jokes, and check for increased absenteeism or staff turnover.
  1. Lead by Example
  • Model respectful behaviours
  1. Maintain Open Communication Channels
  • Policies, procedures, and resources should be posted visibly in common areas, and senior management should offer an open door.

 

A workplace with an EAP and advanced health management programs that include trauma support will be able to help your employees in their time of need, and aid in their recovery in the workplace. We can all work together to create a safe place where we can work productively and feel supported. Let’s pause today and ask if the recent violence against Canada and harassment events reported in the media have caused you concern for your safety? What steps have you taken to make your office, which is a microcosm of the larger community, a “safer” environment for you, your colleagues, and your staff? Are we doing our part to make our work environment and country a safe place to work and live?

I look forward to hearing from you in the comments section below.


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Moncton Tragedy: How a Community Heals

Late last night suspected gunman Justin Bourque was arrested for the allegedly killing three MountiesIn light of the recent shooting of three RCMP officers, the Moncton, New Brunswick community can breathe easier now that they are free from imminent violence and danger, but now the difficult part begins – grief and healing.

How does a small community learn to feel safe after experiencing that level of threat and violence and being subject to home lockdown, while police tracked a man armed with assault rifles? How does the same community recover from the loss of three men who were fathers, colleagues, brothers and sons of many of the community members?

It would be only too easy for a community like Moncton to remain angry and unforgiving at not only the man who committed these crimes, but at the failure of those around him to recognize warning signs and allowing deadly weapons in the hands of someone capable of such violence. However, healing is possible when individuals in the community rely on each other and use their shared grief to move forward. Recovery occurs through the participation in formal settings, like participation in memorials, vigils and community gatherings, but healing also takes place in the small moments, between friends and family members, verbalizing their grief by speaking about their loss and confusion. In a small, tight-knit community such as Moncton, and their closeness will no doubt aid in their path to healing.

Community leaders play a vital role in the healing of an entire community, as they need to recognize and assess the needs of the community members and encourage understanding and tolerance when it is almost impossible to do so. These leaders – political, educational, business, religious – have the unique responsibility to manage their own grief in addition to guiding the community members to the next stage of healing when they are ready.

In the case of such reckless violence and loss, we may be at a loss to comprehend the reasons why the shooter took this particular course of action, or how his state of mental health played into his decision-making. The community must remember that while there may be no understanding this tragedy, recovery is possible through forgiveness and love.

As surrounding supporters of the Moncton community, what can we do to learn from their experience? Perhaps it is to remember that every day matters and that, since life can be unpredictable, we need to hold on tight to what is important and learn to never take it for granted.

How else can the community of Moncton manage their grief? What is important for them to remember? I look forward to your thoughts below.