So you’re feeling a little overwhelmed. You’ve bitten off a coworker’s head because she forgot to return your stapler. Sleep is a luxury you never seem to have time for, and you feel just a little more fragile with each passing day. You can’t sleep, and even weekends fail to refresh you. As time goes on, you’re even beginning to feel apathetic—like what’s happening at work isn’t all that important, really.
If this sounds anything like you, know that it’s probably time to take a mental health day.
Don’t shake your head: mental health days are not the exclusive domain of people who would rather lounge around in their pyjamas than go into work. Career coach Kathy Caprino explains that reserving a specific day to relax and recharge is essential for anyone feeling too exhausted and out-of-control to function properly. Mental health days can be a healthy choice for everyone, including the hardest-working and most dedicated among us. We’d go so far as to argue that these people are the ones who need mental health days the most. So, even and especially if you think of yourself as a highly-motivated, loyal worker, consider taking some time out to rebalance your life. You’re likely to experience substantial rewards, including higher energy levels, more consistent productivity, and increased stability. The unfortunate coworker who borrowed your stapler will thank you.
Planning Your Day
Be sure to plan your mental health day in advance if at all possible. There may be days when you don’t realize you need the time away until the last minute, but most often, you’ll feel burn-out coming long before it arrives. Failing to plan ahead means you won’t make effective use of your time, and may be further strained by the consequences of taking an unplanned day off. Leaving your coworkers in the lurch and worrying about who is covering for you will not contribute to a relaxing day.
Schedule activities for yourself, and avoid isolation by asking a friend or family member to join in during your day off. Spending time with people who make you happy can only add to the experience.
Pitching it to Your Boss
Unless you’re lucky enough to be your own boss, you’ll have to request time away. In theory, notifying your boss of a mental health day should be easy. No one expects you to hesitate when you’re feeling physically ill and need rest, so why should you torture yourself for needing mental rest?
First, banish any guilt you might be feeling. Looking after your mental health shows that you are a responsible person who thinks ahead and knows how to mitigate health problems before they become detrimental to the workplace. Choosing to set aside a day for your mental well-being signals that you are a practical, self-aware employee. Before requesting time off, ensure that you are confident in your need for it.
Next, assess how you think the interaction is likely to go. What is your manager like? Are they open to discussing mental health challenges? We do realize the world is by no means an oasis of acceptance, and we’re under no illusions that mental health stigma is a thing of the past. Not all bosses will be thrilled at the idea of a mental health day, in which case you should call it a personal day and leave it at that. You are under no obligation to go into extravagant detail.
If you do have a relatively accepting boss, pitch your mental health day as a risk management strategy. A reasonable manager will understand that giving their employees one day to reset is preferable to guiding them through a stress-related and preventable meltdown. Emphasize that taking a carefully-planned day off will be of benefit to you, your coworkers, and the company or organization as a whole. Your manager should appreciate your forethought and consideration.
How to Spend the Day
Tempting as it might be, don’t waste your entire mental health day hanging out with Netflix. This activity might feel soothing at the time, but won’t usually result in lasting benefits. You’ll probably go into work the next day feeling as though you haven’t recharged properly. Instead, devote the time to activities that are enriching and engaging.
Exactly how you spend your mental health day will depend on how you’re feeling. For the overwhelmed among us, relaxation is most helpful, so select activities that will reduce tension. Go for a massage, take a walk in a green space, attend a yoga class, or grab lunch with a trusted friend.
On the other hand, if you’re feeling apathetic and numb, find activities that will energize you. Match them to your existing hobbies. Play some games. Cook an elaborate meal. Go shopping (no need to purchase anything if your budget is strained). Lifting the fog of apathy requires stimulating experiences that will remind you what excitement and passion feel like.
Essentially, the template for a successful mental health day involves avoiding stressors and enjoying activities that bring you joy and comfort. Snuggle your pet, surround yourself with loved ones, and relish being away from everything that’s weighing so heavily on you. Any iteration of this basic method should yield positive results.
Making it Last
Even the best mental health day won’t have lasting effects if you fail to make lifestyle changes. Usually, needing one in the first place stems from ongoing issues at work, meaning you’ll have to address these if you want to make meaningful progress. If you don’t incorporate relaxation techniques into your daily routine and maintain a healthy work-life balance, no amount of mental health breaks or even extended vacations will save you from eventual exhaustion. Accept that your current strategy is not working for you, and be willing to make a few changes. If you do, you’ll find that one mental health day can have real long-term impact.
Today is Valentine’s Day—a day for the celebration of lasting love and giddy infatuation—and all across Canada, teenaged couples are indulging in a little romance. Young love has a special magic all its own. According to a survey by Michigan State University, 75% of middle schoolers have been in a relationship by the time they’ve reached eighth grade. Dating, it seems, is as popular among teens as it’s ever been.
There can be, however, a darker side to teen relationships. Inexperienced as they are, they often struggle with basic elements of a romantic relationship. They deal with the same communication problems as adult couples, but often lack the emotional intelligence to solve them. Struggling to manage strong feelings, like jealousy, can also lead to conflict in what might otherwise be an idyllic partnership. When life gets complicated, many teenaged couples are ill-equipped to handle it.
An uncomfortably common result of these issues is dating violence, which the Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines as “the physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence within a dating relationship, including stalking.” No one wants to think of young people committing violence against each other, but it’s an unfortunate reality we must all face if we wish to protect victims and prevent further violence. Since roughly 30% of teens say they’ve been a victim of dating violence, this is not an issue we can afford to ignore.
What to Look For
The CDC emphasizes the importance of recognizing warning signs. You’ll find that most signs are identical to those you’d notice in an abusive adult relationship. Watch for these dynamics:
- The victim loses interest in their favourite activities and suffers other symptoms of depression.
- The victim frequently apologizes and/or explains away their partner’s behaviour.
- The perpetrator frequently demeans the victim in front of their peers. The victim has unexplained injuries they’re unwilling to discuss.
- The victim has an extremely jealous partner, who exhibits controlling behaviour and monitors the victim constantly.
- The victim resorts to substance abuse and other risk-taking behaviour.
It’s not always easy to spot dating violence, because some cases are less obvious. Indeed, some teen relationships can seem outwardly perfect, especially if the perpetrator is savvy enough to refrain from abusing their partner in any noticeable way. Crystal Sanchez describes her abusive relationship in stages. First, the infatuation, the charm, and the belief that she was special. Then came the subtle abuse, which fooled her into believing “jealousy was adoration.” Finally, her partner began to physically abuse her. She was held at gunpoint, punched into unconsciousness, emotionally manipulated via suicide threats, and nearly killed multiple times because of her partner’s dangerous driving. It took her eight years to free herself, and all throughout that time, no one really suspected what was happening to her because all the abuse took place where her friends and family could not witness it.
Don’t Let Myths Mislead You
In other cases, the abuse is overlooked because several myths surround teen relationships. For example, many believe that teens who come from loving, secure homes would never tolerate abuse and would report it immediately. As one anonymous woman explains, this is far from true. Even her loving, supportive family was unable to shield her from her abusive partner, because they assumed it would never happen to her. She was a strong, confident girl who always said she’d “never let a man hit [her].” Still, she fell for a vulnerable, harmless-seeming boy who convinced her that he was in need of nurturance, and only she could provide it. By the time she realized her relationship was unhealthy, she was in too deep to report it.
The most persistent myth appears to be that victims are always female. As we’ve discussed in the past, men and boys can fall prey to violence and abuse, but rarely report out of fear and shame. For teenaged boys, image is everything, so it can be doubly difficult to come out as a victim of dating violence.
Dating violence has long-term consequences beyond bruises and humiliation. It is so often a pipeline to repeat victimization, exploitation, and substance abuse. Victims can become permanently isolated from family and friends. They tend to abandon their dreams and goals because of unwanted pregnancy, prolonged drug use, a criminal record (in the perpetrator’s case), and mental health issues. According to research conducted by Cornell University, both victims and perpetrators may also find it impossible to maintain lasting, healthy relationships, because their past has damaged their concept of love and respect.
What can be done?
It turns out that it’s not enough to be alert for warning signs. Prevention needs to be everyone’s ultimate goal. One of the best ways to do this, as Ms. Sanchez points out, is to talk about it. Discuss dating violence with young people early on, even before middle school. Give it a name, explain what it looks like, and assure teens that they are always welcome to come forward. Education isn’t just for potential victims: potential perpetrators also benefit from learning about dating violence, which they may not always understand is unacceptable. Society has a way of tacitly enabling violence, so it’s not guaranteed that they’ll be able to filter these messages effectively.
Dating is a vital part of a teen’s emotional development, and the solution is not to discourage it from occurring. Instead, we must arm them with the tools and knowledge to navigate healthy relationships and exit unhealthy ones. Teach them what to look for, guide them as they grow, and the chances of violence, and its accompanying long-term consequences, will decrease.
In honour of Bell Let’s Talk day, we’d like to address mental health—a topic very dear to our vision and mission.
Despite the many public initiatives, awareness campaigns, and personal stories meant to debunk myths and celebrate acceptance, stigma and shame associated with mental illness seems to reign supreme. Canadians’ fear and anxiety, rarely justifiable as it is, erects unnecessary and intimidating barriers between those with mental illness and the treatment that could save their lives. Since mental illness affects all of us, it’s more important than ever that we show support and solidarity, today and every day.
Canada’s troubling mental health landscape can be illustrated by disturbing statistics assembled by the Canadian Mental Health Association:
• 20% of Canadians will experience mental illness at some point in their lives.
• Roughly 50% of those dealing with mental health issues never seek medical help.
• Mental illness, treated or untreated, costs the Canadian health care system billions of dollars annually.
• Men are especially at risk, taking their own lives four times as often as women.
• 24% of deaths among youth are a result of suicide.
• A staggering 3.2 million youth in Canada have experienced a depressive episode.
There is a promising statistic, however: the CMHA claims that, when help is sought, 80% of patients will benefit significantly from treatment.
If these statistics are any indication, mental health should concern all Canadians. It’s safe to say this is a national problem, one which both government and individual citizens must work to alleviate.
Immigration and Mental Health
Canada’s Mental Health Commission addresses cultural diversity which, while being a source of enrichment for Canadian culture as a whole, can also result in an inability to pursue professional help. Recent immigrants often endure feelings of displacement and culture shock, making it difficult for them to find appropriate resources and express themselves to health care professionals who may not understand cultural context. Some immigrants’ needs can be adequately met by expanding existing services, but other groups require new services that Canada does not yet have in place. The cultivation of cultural intelligence is vital to ensuring that suitable supports are always available to immigrants who need them.
Of course, not all immigrants are prepared to request medical help. They often grapple with the conflicting expectations of their families, Canadian society, and themselves. Campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk trumpet the value of openness, but not all cultures view mental illness with such acceptance. Disclosing a mental health condition can subject the patient to ridicule and shame. They may be accused of weakness. For example, Chinese women may not confess to feeling depressed because anything other than a cheerful disposition is regarded as a character flaw. So, some of the burden of improving mental health rests within immigrant communities. Society must welcome those who are able to come forward, showing them the warmth and understanding they may not find elsewhere.
Trauma and Substance Abuse among First Nations Communities
Health Canada’s website devotes a page to listing the specific challenges faced by First Nations people. Citing the trauma caused by the legacy of residential schools and colonial oppression, the article explains that it remains impactful and harmful today. There may be few people alive to describe the horrors they lived through, but trauma is cumulative, and is passed down to children and grandchildren. The accumulation of trauma leads to unstable mental health in Aboriginal communities.
Many First Nations people, particularly youth, turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. Addiction, already prevalent in Canada, is especially common and widespread in First Nations communities. Substance abuse can exacerbate existing mental health conditions, which only adds to the troubled landscape surrounding Aboriginal people.
Hope can be found in programs that focus on addiction treatment, recovery from trauma, and reconciliation. Due to disproportionately high suicide rates, programs targeting suicide prevention, particularly among youth, are also highly effective.
Mental Health on Campus
In recent years, Canadian postsecondary institutions have had to acknowledge a growing mental health crisis among their students. A mix of increasing academic pressure, unemployment, and the inherent issues faced by all young people—for it has never been easy to be young—conspire to decrease students’ general well-being. Academic life has always been challenging, but the strain students find themselves under seems to have grown exponentially. Some educators believe that this is partially the fault of primary and secondary education, which tends to emphasize self-esteem and an “everyone is a winner” mentality that is incompatible with postsecondary standards. Students may be less resilient, and a bad grade can throw them badly off course. Minor setbacks can have devastating effects.
Compounding the problem is the coping mechanism many students choose: the use of drugs, especially stimulants, leads to problems with substance abuse and addiction.
Typically, students prefer to rely on student-led programs to guide them through the process of improving their general mental health. Peer support is an essential part of the postsecondary experience. Policies encouraging mental health awareness can also do a great deal of good.
What We Can Do
Besides advocating for policies that will make affordable, effective care available to all mentally ill Canadians, there is a lot we can do as individuals to assist those who need us most.
• Listen: active, compassionate listening is a valuable skill that can make it easier to facilitate openness and acceptance. An attentive, nonjudgmental ear can make a world of difference.
• Speak up: use your voice to promote mental health awareness, and place pressure on those in power to implement mental health strategies aimed at improving the health of all Canadians.
• Reach out: if you are dealing with mental health challenges, do not do so in isolation. Talk to loved ones, and seek medical help if necessary. Mental illness is as legitimate and serious as physical illness; you cannot afford to ignore it.
DECSA is committed to mental health advocacy, especially when it comes to preserving the right of all Albertans to work. If you or someone you know feels trapped by barriers associated with employment and education, contact us. Our doors are always open.
Everyone experiences varying levels of stress, but many of us don’t understand stress or know how to deal with it effectively. This is made more challenging by the individualized nature of stress and how we cope with it. There is no universal, one-size-fits-all strategy, so we must find our own path to managing stressful situations. Fortunately, there are several steps you can take to begin this journey. Here are just a few.
Stress is constantly devalued. With headlines screaming about how to eliminate and fight stress, a very important point is being overlooked: there’s such a thing as good stress, and it’s very healthy. Positive stress is characterized by its short-term nature and ability to motivate you. Good stress is what helps you keep your energy levels high while writing an exam. It helps you evade dangerous situations, which is the original purpose of our fight-or-flight response. It helps you sharpen your focus and conquer deadlines without collapsing. In short, it helps you tackle even the most difficult tasks without burning out or giving up.
Bad stress, by contrast, is chronic, acute, and harmful to your overall health. Unlike positive stress, it contributes to burnout and even physical ailments like depression, cancer, heart conditions, and the natural process of aging. Once you learn to distinguish between good and bad stress, you can convert chronic, destructive stress to healthy, positive stress.
2. Change your perception
As we’ve covered already, stress does not necessarily deserve its bad reputation. So, it’s important to understand that your reactions to and perception of stress are more powerful than the feeling itself. Luckily, your brain is equipped to adapt over time, so if you practice active alteration of your thought processes, you can begin to view stress as a force to be mastered rather than an enemy to be avoided.
Remember, too, that stress is by no means inevitable. Everyone reacts differently to the same situations, which proves that we are not programmed to respond the way we do to things that frighten and stress us out. There is freedom in working to change your instinctive tendencies. When you do, you’ll begin to notice a reduction in anxiety and better control of your emotions.
Let’s face it: we all know the essential components of good health, but rarely honour them. It’s no secret that regular exercise, restful sleep, and a nutritious diet all contribute to a healthier lifestyle, but these have other benefits, too.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle has been shown to reduce negative stress and enhance the benefits of positive stress. Energy levels rise, motivation increases, and general well-being is within reach. If you do more than the bare minimum when caring for yourself, you’ll spot the difference almost immediately.
Effective planning of your day-to-day life is invaluable, not just for productivity, but also for a more relaxed, manageable life. When you don’t schedule time in an efficient way, you will suffer for it. It’s easy, really. One of the best methods you can use is to schedule leisure or relaxation time for yourself each day. You don’t have to do this for long if your timetable doesn’t permit—just take fifteen minutes or so each day to do something you love. Choose activities that require low energy, and put aside your worries for that short time. Unstructured time doesn’t have to be wasted time.
Of course, you can always employ quicker coping mechanisms throughout the day. Take a moment to do some breathing exercises. Plan your day in advance so you don’t need to worry about deadlines. Balance work-related time with family and social time. No matter how crowded your schedule becomes, it’s imperative that you set aside time for fun and social interaction.
Coping with stress may seem like a long, daunting process, but when you implement concrete, practical solutions, you’ll notice equally concrete results. Stress is not your enemy. Learn to make peace with and master it, and it becomes an advantage, not a setback.
You’ve begun to notice something disturbing: one of your coworkers is behaving strangely. They’re constantly late, but their excuses are vague. They always seem to have one minor injury or another, and are uncomfortable when you ask what happened. They frequently receive personal phone calls—phone calls that appear to upset them. They’re preoccupied and startle easily. They seem anxious all the time, and they refuse to discuss it.
If you’ve seen any of these signs, it’s possible that your coworker is experiencing family violence. While the situation is delicate, there are steps you can and should take to reach out to them.
In recognition of Family Violence Prevention Month, we’ve compiled a list of dos and don’ts when bringing up the issue with a coworker. We hope you’ll never have to use it, but since 25% of violent crimes reported in Canada are related to family violence, it’s important to have this information handy, just in case.
Asking the Question
Bringing up the issue can be awkward for both of you, and the way in which you ask can mean the difference between a positive response and a total refusal to speak. Approach the process with care.
- Don’t assume all victims are women: if you see suspicious signs consistent with family violence in a male coworker’s behaviour, remember that he may be dealing with family violence. Men make up roughly 50% of victims, but struggle to report (and are rarely believed when they do).
- Do maintain confidentiality: ask the question in private, so that your coworker doesn’t feel pressured or uncomfortable. Reassure them that, whatever happens, you’re a safe person to speak to.
- Don’t jump right in: first explain the signs you’ve been noticing, then express general concern. A good place to start is to ask them whether there is anything going on at home.
- Do be gentle: if your coworker is taking time to respond or has difficulty getting their words out, listen patiently. An open ear is one of the best ways to encourage a response.
- Don’t push the issue: if your coworker clams up, becomes hostile, or insists nothing is wrong, back off. You can’t coerce them into discussing what’s going on. All you can do is reiterate that you’re there to support them, and keep the offer open.
Handling the Response
So, your coworker has revealed that they’re experiencing family violence. Now what should (and shouldn’t) you do?
- Do emphasize trust: it isn’t easy to report abuse, so you must ensure they know that you are a trustworthy person. Breaking their trust could lead them to develop trust issues long afterward, so be very careful.
- Don’t judge: it’s natural to want to tell them that their relationship is unhealthy or to ask them why they would stay in that type of situation. You may even be tempted to mention that you, personally, would never tolerate abusive behaviour. Remember that one of the most harmful ways to handle their admission is to make your colleague feel judged, so keep your opinions out of the conversation and focus on how you can help them move forward without judgment or shame.
- Do thank them for telling you: acknowledge that it wasn’t an easy thing to do, and tell them you’re grateful they trusted you.
- Don’t ask for details: discussing the abuse may be painful for them, so don’t ask why it’s happening or how severe it is. Probing for specifics might cause them to become uncomfortable and abandon the conversation altogether.
- Do remind them that they’re not alone: it’s essential that you stress the fact that you believe them. If they know that at least one person is looking out for them, they may feel inspired to seek further help.
You’ve opened a dialogue with your coworker, they’ve admitted they’re being abused, and they’ve indicated they’d like to take further steps. Where should you go from here?
- Don’t tell them what to do: victims are experts on their own situations, so no matter how strongly you feel, remember that your role is to support them and make them aware of their options. The rest is up to them.
- Do encourage them to reach out to others: suggest that they talk to a supervisor or human resources professional, who may be able to alert security of any potential threats to their safety.
- Don’t initiate rescue missions: your coworker may have reasons for staying in an abusive relationship that don’t include love or loyalty. For example, they may be financially dependent on their abuser, or may have their children’s safety to think of as well.
- Do ask open-ended questions: your coworker may be able to list concrete ways to help them. Maybe you can screen calls from their abuser, document signs of abuse, or accompany them if they need to exit the building during the work day. They will know their needs best, so ask them for suggestions and respect their wishes.
- Don’t offer conditional support: make it clear that whatever they choose to do, you will always be there should they need any other assistance. Perhaps one day, if they decide to take action, they’ll be able to lean on you.
Work is good for us. There is evidence that it makes us happier, and while mental illness can hamper your ability to work, you really should if you can. Disclosing your mental illness might feel like a lose-lose situation: you must reveal sensitive information about yourself, and your boss must figure out how to deal with it. The stigma surrounding mental illness doesn’t help, either. Despite numerous campaigns, articles, and attempts to educate the public, myths and misconceptions are difficult to dispel. There’s certainly a possibility of negative consequences, so it can be a frightening prospect.
“If it’s so risky, why should I tell?”
Perhaps the most pressing reason is that if your mental illness interferes with your work, you are obligated to disclose it. This is actually meant to help you; telling management that you face performance issues and require accommodations will make your job easier. You have a responsibility to let your boss know so they can support you.
Another compelling reason is that, by disclosing, you have an opportunity to educate others. Your productivity can prove to your superiors that mental health issues are not an insurmountable obstacle. You can lead by example, and reduce stigma at the same time.
“What should I say?”
There are several approaches you can take. It all depends on the nature of your illness and how comfortable you are with exposing personal information. If you struggle with the idea of being vulnerable, you can use general terms. You don’t need to be too specific. You only have to talk about what is relevant to your work situation. You are not even required to name your illness, if you don’t want to.
Talk about your strengths. While you do need to discuss the ways in which your illness will affect your performance, you should also point out the ways in which it won’t interfere. Make sure your manager is aware that you are still an asset, not a liability.
Stress that your illness is not a symptom of a bad attitude. Help them understand that at least some of your issues are beyond your control and that, while you’ll try to give it your best, there will be times when you struggle. Make sure you explain how this can be dealt with.
“How can I help my boss understand me?”
The first step is to tell them about your specific needs and preferences. Be honest and forthright about the accommodations that will help you do your best work. Chances are, they won’t know much about the topic, and they definitely can’t know what you’ll require unless you tell them. Don’t make them guess.
It’s a good idea to present them with brochures and other educational materials. Different sources of information are helpful, especially if you find it difficult to share that information yourself. This may also help them get past any deeply-ingrained beliefs about mental illness, which may be out of date or simply wrong.
“I’m still not sure about this…”
Disclosing mental illness will never be easy, but trust us when we say that failing to do so is the bigger risk by far. It causes intense anxiety in most cases, but once it’s over, there is an excellent chance you won’t regret it. It may result in a more supportive environment, and once the required accommodations are in place, you’ll be a happier, more productive employee. We know it’s hard, but be brave and take the leap. You’ll be glad you did.
DECSA knows that disadvantages don’t just affect employment opportunities, which is why we are happy to help support health and wellness programs in Edmonton. We know that trying to find affordable ways to stay healthy and active in Alberta can be a challenge, but we have programs in place to help!
The Health and Wellness Aquasize Program is currently hosted at the Eastglen Leisure Center, in partnership with Coca-Cola. Participants in the program are able to access a fun swim program taught by qualified instructors that keeps them healthy and active. The program also provides childcare for participants. Grant funding for this program has also been provided by Edmonton’s Community and Recreation Facilities Funds.
For more information on this program please contact DECSA at: 780-474-2500.