Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Eating Disorders: What You Need To Know

As someobelly-2354_960_720ne who has worked in the mental health field for 30 years, I’m no stranger to working with clients who have suffered from eating disorders. This past week was Eating Disorder Awareness Week, a time dedicated to reducing the stigma associated with eating disorders and creating awareness about the mental health issue that affects approximately 1 million Canadians every year.

So what exactly is an eating disorder? In simple terms, an eating disorder is a mental health issue that leaves individuals completely pre-occupied with their weight. However, according to The Canadian Mental Health Association, eating disorders are not just about food. They are often a way to cope with difficult problems or regain a sense of control. They are complicated disorders that affect a person’s sense of identity, worth and self-esteem.

Unsurprisingly, eating disorders are most common in females. A recent report found that 3% of Canadian women will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime. This can happen for a number of reasons. Female body image is constantly critiqued in popular culture, and as a result, women are more likely to develop disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia in an effort to control their weight.

While eating disorders are more common in females, body image issues impact males as well. Men are exposed to a similar level of body critique, mainly that they need to be muscular and strong. This kind of societal pressure can result in men developing eating disorders or taking hormones like steroids to increase their muscle mass. Steroid use, like an eating disorder, also has a long-term negative impact on a person’s health.

Effects of eating disorders may not always be apparent. For example, anorexia sufferers generally have a very low body mass index (BMI), but people suffering from bulimia often maintain a relatively stable body weight. Here are some tips on how you can identify if a friend or employee is suffering from an eating-related mental health issue.

  • Food obsession
    It’s important to note when someone begins to obsess about food, for example, constantly counting calories or eliminating large groups of “bad” foods from their diet, especially if this was never a topic of conversation before.
  • Excessive exercise
    Physical activity is part of a healthy lifestyle, but when you begin to notice someone is taking his or her gym routine to the next level it can be cause for concern. People with eating disorders often attempt to “work-off” the bad calories they have consumed after a binge, to the point where they are putting their bodies through physical discomfort.
  • Body image issues.
    While losing weight can be a side effect of an eating disorder, it can also increase the level of anxiety a person may have towards their body. Even though they may be losing weight, someone suffering from an eating disorder might wear baggy clothes to cover up their body. Take notice if someone in your life begins expressing dissatisfaction with his or her body more frequently.
  • Depression.
    Symptoms of eating disorders often mimic the symptoms of depression due to the lack of energy, low morale and lack of sufficient sleep the disease causes. People suffering from eating disorders tend to isolate themselves from groups, especially if food is involved. If you notice someone exhibiting symptoms of depression while showing signs of negative body image or food obsession, it could be cause for concern.

The impact of any eating disorder can be devastating. From restricting the body of food to choosing to binge eat and then purge, eating disorders can wreak havoc on a person’s physical and mental health. Short-term effects include poor digestion, kidney issues, anxiety and depression while long-term issues include infertility in women or death as a result of malnutrition.

Whether you’re a parent, a teacher, employer or friend, it’s important to know how to spot the signs of an eating disorder so if someone you know is impacted, you can help. Confronting someone about an eating-related mental health issue is difficult, but it’s important to get your loved one the help they need before they cause irreparable damage.

If you or someone you know is suffering from an eating disorder, it’s important to get help. Contact your EAP or SAP provider for assistance, or speak to a medical professional.

For more advice on this issue, visit The National Eating Disorder Information Centre or CAMH.

 

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Cancer in the Workplace: What can you do?

Over 204,440 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer in 2016.

This is an alarming statistic, one that we in the health care field together with employers need to address in order to support our workforce.

It’s safe to say cancer has a huge impact on all of us. This includes the families of those with a diagnosis, in addition to those directly affected. Unfortunately, people who have been diagnosed often feel uncomfortable disclosing their illness in the workplace, yet they desperately need our support.

Recently, my own company has had to deal with the impact of a cancer diagnosis in our office and being in the industry I’m in, we luckily had the tools and systems in place to address this. This is not the case for many organizations.

Although some employee assistance programs (EAPs) have introduced cancer support programs, we still have a long way to go to support this disease in the workplace.

As a business owner, HR manager, or supervisor, an employee is most likely to come to you with their cancer diagnosis to ask for support. I know how incredibly difficult this discussion can be, and to help you support a cancer diagnosis in the workplace, I have outlined a few tools below.

Be Prepared

A cancer diagnosis is often unexpected and inconvenient. Having a back-up long-term leave strategy in place can benefit the entire organization.

When an employee is dealing with an illness that interferes with their work, it can create tension in the office, especially if missed work impacts another employee. In the event of illness, a pre-determined strategy outlining the shift of responsibility among colleagues will allow an ill employee to feel more comfortable disclosing their diagnosis.

Have a Care Plan

There are details you need to know in order to set up a care plan that would be most beneficial to the employee. Your questions might include asking them if they know their treatment plan, if they will need to go on a work leave or long-term disability, and what accommodations you’ll need to make for them in the office. Your employee may not have all the details of their diagnosis yet, but asking the right questions will allow you to prepare an effective plan that will provide them the most support.

It’s also important to ask the employee how they would like to handle the situation in the workplace i.e. do they wish to disclose their diagnosis to other coworkers. Knowing who is aware of the situation will allow you to limit misinformation from circulating around the office and allow you to create a plan to deal with this situation.

Create a Safe Space

Dealing with cancer is both physically and emotionally exhausting, especially if someone is carrying on with his or her regular workload. One of the most important things you can do in your role is ensure the employee feels comfortable talking to you about their situation. Studies show that 40% of people impacted by cancer suffer from psychological distress. Ensure that you take the proper precautions to provide your employee with emotional support through this experience.

A cancer diagnosis impacts the entire workplace. Other employees might feel emotionally distressed by the news or may be experiencing a new, stressful workload as a result of another employee’s illness or absence. Encourage employees to reach out and talk to you about their feelings on the issue. By giving everyone an outlet for their pain, you allow them to release some of the stress brought on by this diagnosis.

 
Dealing with a cancer diagnosis in the workplace is incredibly difficult for all involved. Check in with The Canadian Cancer Society for helpful resources and ask your EAP provider if they have a cancer support service, or a program for your workforce to help those newly diagnosed as well as their partners and family members.

 


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How Do You Find the Time for Work-Life Balance?

Work-Life BalanceIt seems that in these times, more than in our parents’ day, we are trying to be everyone for everybody. The majority of Canadians have reported feeling overloaded with too many roles to juggle – employees, parents, partners, students, friends, siblings, caregivers of older relatives, volunteers…and we keep adding to the list. If we are not mindful of the stress that is inherent in managing each of these roles, it can take a serious toll on our physical and mental health. Technology has only increased expectations, with many employers expecting worker availability around the clock, never mind staying on top of your email and cleaning up your inbox on a regular basis! Staying connected doesn’t allow for as much downtime as we need and we don’t always see the signs of when good stress that motivates us becomes harmful stress that exhausts us. Ask yourself:

  1. Do I feel like I’ve lost control in areas of my life?
  2. Do I often feel guilty that I have neglected some roles at the expense of others?
  3. Do I find it increasingly difficult to focus on the task at hand?
  4. Does it seem like I always feel tired?

I’ve always believed we are unique individuals, sharing similar experiences. Thus, work-life balance has a different meaning for each of us, but the majority of us know when we’re not feeling balanced.

I’ve compiled some suggestions on how to find some ways to achieve that balance, whether at work or at home, that I’d like to share with you.

With wage freezes and budget cuts, I understand that getting your employer’s support can be achieved when you are clear on what YOU need to ensure optimal work-life balance. Take some time to look into the programs, benefits, and policies available to you.

During the daily grind, keep these strategies top of mind to help you balance:

  • Schedule 10-minute breaks every two hours (even a walk to the cafeteria or outside for fresh air). This will increase what you accomplish at the end of each day.
  • The to-do list you prepare for the next day needs to be realistic given the hours to do the tasks.
  • Turn off your email program to avoid distractions while focusing on tasks.
  • Turn off electronic devices when you are not scheduled to work, so there is no distraction during your “downtime”.

Prioritization is a key to balancing our obligations and desires. We want to be a successful employee, have a healthy and dedicated relationship with our partner, be an involved parent to our children and supportive caregiver to our elderly parents, and have time to spend with friends. When we determine what is important to us (eg. spending time reading with our children at the end of the day instead of working overtime to finance the dream house), we can put some things aside to do (or not to do) at a later date. . There are only 24 hours in a day, so if we are working towards our goals of achieving our masters degree while holding on to our 9-5 job, we need to check in with ourselves periodically to set ourselves back on a balanced track.

According to Statistics Canada, employees who considered most of their days to be quite a bit or extremely stressful were over three times more likely to suffer a major depressive episode, compared with those who reported low levels of general stress. I encourage you to take steps to protect your mental and physical health by bringing all aspects of your life into balance.

Do you think you have a good work-life balance? Is it possible in our world today to achieve work-life balance? I look forward to hearing what works for you for balancing work and family in “Comments” below.


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Top 10 Reasons for an EAP – Insight from an EAP Expert Part 2

cutout-peopleFollowing up on my last blog, here are the balance of the top 10 reasons to consider having an effective Employee Assistance Program.

#6 Reduced Turnover

A high turnover of employees can be costly for any company. Effective EAPs reduce the turnover of employees by managing work related and personal stress. EAPs improve the working environment in terms of morale and company support ensuring employees are well looked after and less likely to leave their jobs. And it gives the company a recruitment advantage in your industry!

#7 Reduced Accidents at Work

It is easy to see how accidents can happen at work when you’re stressed. A person suffering from stress-related symptoms will often experience difficulty with concentration, mental focus and physical function. This can be a dangerous combination in any environment but especially in safety-sensitive positions. An effective EAP is equipped to prevent this from occurring or at least prevent it from reoccurring. EAPs look after the mental health and ability of your employees ensuring that they are able to function at the expected level.

#8 Resolution of Work Related Problems

External stress often results in a reduction in work place performance. Problems within the working environment lead to absenteeism, high turnover and low morale. Effective EAPs look after the  psychological health of employees developing strategies for coping with external stress as well as work related stress. An EAP will help employees develop the skills they need to cope with all types of work related stress. In turn this reduces the impact of work related stress as there is a quick resolution.

#9 Improved Work Performance

Companies employing the services of a professional EAP have not only experienced increases in productivity but also in quality of work. Work performance is greatly affected by stress and personal problems often escalate into personal problems. An effective EAP manages these problems and ensures employee issues are quickly resolved. This means fewer mistakes at work, high quality output and an overall increase in work place performance.

#10 Professional Services

Effective EAPs are extremely responsive and connect troubled employees to professional services. The great thing about an EAP is they are able to connect employees directly with these services and the first appointment will occur within a few days close to the employee’s home or place of work.  Telephonic and video counselling is also available if employees prefer.  Crisis situations like violence, suicide attempts and, child abuse are addressed on the spot at the time of the first call This means that your employees are getting the help they need, when they need it and where they need it!

In the coming weeks, I look forward to sharing some advice, tips and industry insights on employee mental health and wellness in your workplace.

How About You?
Do you have an EAP? If not, why not? If so, has the program helped you resolve any current issues?  I look forward to hearing your feedback in the comments below.