October 10th is World Mental Health Day, and this year’s theme is especially relevant to us here at DECSA: mental health in the workplace. With this FAQ, we hope to spark conversations about why so many workplaces are unhealthy, which aspects of professional culture influence this trend, and what can be done to promote a more positive, healthy work environment for us all.
What are the signs of an unhealthy workplace?
If you’re wondering about the effect your workplace has on employee mental health, watch out for any of the following signs:
• Employees eat lunch at their desks, or skip lunch altogether.
• Breaks, even scheduled ones, are ignored in favour of tackling a heavy workload.
• Vacation time is accrued, but no one ever seems to take time off.
• Employees remain unofficially on call outside work hours, attending to work-related emails and phone calls on personal time.
• Employees are unwilling or reluctant to discuss mental health issues, even with managers and HR staff.
These and similar signals point to a workplace populated by disengaged, isolated, and overworked employees who would rather struggle in silence than call out a toxic workplace culture. Eventually, the most apathetic and/or overtaxed of these employees will simply leave, increasing turnover and further burdening remaining staff.
Why do mentally unhealthy workplaces exist at all
Perhaps the simplest explanation for work environments like the one described above is cutthroat culture. The cutthroat workplace model relies on the power of stress, pressure, and fear to motivate employees. In many industries, a hard-line approach is used to weed out less-valuable employees, strengthen resilient ones, and drive success in a forceful manner. According to proponents of this approach, employees who can withstand the unreasonably long hours and staggering workload are the only ones who belong. For some employers, cutthroat culture is an efficient way to identify weak links and eliminate anyone who might stand in the way of success.
This model does work, at least in the short-term, but employers who use this framework may soon discover the latent costs of a negative culture. Health spending soars as employees deal with the fallout from elevated stress levels. Absenteeism rises as employees take more sick days to escape a culture that is becoming too exhausting to handle. Employees who are present, many of whom were engaged and productive earlier on, find themselves becoming disenchanted with their work and increasingly disloyal to their employer. Research has shown that disengaged employees make more mistakes, suffer more accidents, and take more sick days than employees who are surrounded by a healthy, positive workplace culture. Worse still, disengaged employees may affect employees who are still passionate and engaged with their work, creating a destructive ripple effect.
As long as the corporate world continues to discourage work-life balance and reward unhealthy work habits in the name of productivity, mentally unhealthy workplaces will persist. Meanwhile, research indicates that, far more than a lavish workplace replete with perks, employees want a positive, secure, and supportive work environment.
Why are mentally healthy workplaces important?
As illustrated above, mentally healthy workplaces foster productivity and job satisfaction. More than these, mentally healthy workplaces make excellent business sense, because…
• work-life balance is more than a buzzword: employees value balance more than ever, and will seek out employers who explicitly commit to preserving it.
• employees are free to thrive: workers will benefit from higher energy levels, make fewer errors, develop stronger social bonds with coworkers, and be easier to retain.
• businesses will save money: lower health spending should result when workplaces make concerted efforts to encourage healthy lifestyles for their employees.
• the essence of workplace culture will improve: a mentally healthy workplace tends to create fertile soil for diversity, inclusion, and stronger peer support.
How can employers build a healthier workplace?
Target Physical Health
Promoting healthy eating and regular exercise is a simple and effective way to ensure employees will see improvements in their mental health. Exercise and nutritious foods contribute to a more balanced, energetic, and stable employee, and many people find it’s possible to manage or at least mitigate mental health conditions with a better diet and vigorous exercise.
For example, DECSA makes a special effort to remind coworkers to take a full lunch break to encourage employees to set their work aside, mingle with coworkers, and refuel their bodies. Intermittent breaks are also encouraged throughout the day, so that our staff has time to reflect and recharge between tasks.
Be the Change You Wish to See
When attempting to rehabilitate a toxic culture or maintain a healthy one, managers and executive leaders have a particular responsibility to model the behaviour and habits they wish to see in their employees. If top officials are seen taking breaks, speaking openly about mental health issues, and advocating the occasional use of mental health breaks, employees are more likely to follow suit. Managers should take special care to cultivate cohesion in teams and personalized supportiveness among individuals. Employees are much more likely to discuss mental health concerns in a welcoming, nonjudgmental environment.
At DECSA, all coordinators are aware of the value of a judgment-free, inclusive atmosphere that makes employees feel comfortable coming forward about mental health issues in the workplace. DECSA staff have been given the opportunity to obtain mental health first-aid training, a crisis team is always on call to assist staff and clients, and discretionary days are frequently referred to as “mental health days” in a positive tone that carries no stigma or punitive element. It’s not uncommon to hear our CEO, Deborah Rose, reminding staff to take vacation and look after their mental health as well as their physical well-being. In this way, DECSA is suffused with an open, inclusive culture that benefits both staff and clients.
Foster Reflection and Social Bonding
To achieve optimal mental health, people need space for reflective solitude and space for social bonding. Businesses can combine team-building exercises with designated spaces for quiet reflection to ensure that all staff feel comfortable at work. Strong peer support and social cohesion decrease turnover and increase productivity, but staff also need access to a safe, tranquil space where they can think through complex problems without interruption, or simply enjoy a quiet moment away from workplace hustle and bustle.
DECSA has a cultural room (sometimes called the Ceremony Room) that serves multiple purposes: it can act as a safe space for spiritual practices like smudging, and can also function as a retreat for people who merely need a few moments alone. The space is designed to inspire peace, tranquility, and emotional safety—the perfect location for reflection and mental respite.
Now that you know the importance of mentally healthy workplaces, we challenge you to evaluate your workplace. Do you see any signs that could point to negative impacts on mental health? Are there ways you can personally facilitate a healthier work environment? Is there someone in your company or organization who can effect change on a larger scale? Why not find out?
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.
When Lawrence received the diagnosis for the ADHD he had had his entire life, he was in a very dark place. He was so depressed, in fact, that he did not know where to turn, and wasn’t sure how he’d continue to deal with his “scattered mind.” Unsure of which direction to take, he stumbled upon DECSA and joined the Ventures program.
The Ventures program suited his entrepreneurial spirit, and DECSA was vital in his recovery. In addition to his mental health struggles, he was plagued by physical issues, adding another barrier to his success. He confided in our staff, allowing them to help him understand the changes occurring in his life. The program helped him hone his existing skills and understand his disability more clearly. It was at DECSA that Lawrence realized ADHD didn’t have to be a barrier—and that it could even be an asset.
“I started understanding myself and what I could do in this world,” he said, “and realized that DECSA was a place where I felt safe.”
After he left the program, Lawrence searched for a way to use his entrepreneurial spirit and newfound confidence. Some friends of his, also entrepreneurs, invited him to help reinvent a company called Combined Insurance. The company has been around since 1922, and under the leadership of Lawrence and his team, it has made a stunning comeback.
Lawrence describes Combined Insurance as a company dedicated to helping people “prepare for, work through, and recover from life trauma.” Combined Insurance focuses on filling in the gaps of existing medical insurance, supplementing health plans and insuring those who would otherwise struggle to be covered at all. The aim, Lawrence says, is to sit clients down, figure out which difficulties they’re facing, and help them understand the benefits they already have. From there, it’s just a matter of providing the extra assistance needed to walk the client through their recovery, whatever it might look like.
Lawrence explains that his own trauma and recovery gave him an edge: he is able to understand what clients are going through more intimately, and can demonstrate to them that he’s been through trauma of his own. This places him in a unique position to help them recover from their own experiences.
“I want [clients] to know that I’ve been in dark spots too, that it’s okay, and that we can move forward together.”
For Lawrence, it’s all about community. Being around people who have suffered through dark times reminds him of how far he has come, and allows him to fulfill his life’s purpose. Even though he no longer works with us, Lawrence remains strongly attached to DECSA and the community we serve.
“I’m a big fan of DECSA. I could not have found my mission and purpose in life without them. DECSA is a place I can call home.”
Who knew that pencil crayons could turn your life around?
If you told Emma a year ago that today she’d be a thriving artist and the instructor of Try Angles – an art class under the umbrella of the Community Linking Programs, Wellness Network – she wouldn’t have believed you. She wasn’t an artist, she was a business woman, and drawing and painting weren’t even on her list of things to do for fun.
It was through some dark times that her inner artist began to emerge about a year ago. Struggling in an abusive relationship and facing overwhelming depression, Emma attempted to take her own life. When she woke up in the hospital, getting a box of pencil crayons was the first step to a complete life change for Emma. She’d never done much art before, and she found that it was exactly what she needed. “It was therapy for me, and it was amazing,” she says. “Art is so relaxing! It doesn’t let my mind wander into the past or future. I am in the moment – now. Yesterday I can’t control. Tomorrow hasn’t come. Now is the only time I can control.”
Art became a doorway into good mental health for Emma, and she started attending Try Angles, an art class for adults living with mental health or addictions. She soaked up every class and even started creating art at home.
Now, a year later, she is teaching two Try Angles classes and creating all sorts of beautiful artworks in her free time. “I am very, very happy for the first time,” she says. “My life is good. I never thought I’d stay that, but it is.”
Emma is now bringing the Try Angles art class to DECSA on Tuesdays from 1:30 until 3:30, and you are welcome to join us. Come with two dollars for supplies and all your artistic enthusiasm!
The Try Angles art class is under the umbrella of the Community Linking Programs, Wellness Network. These programs are available on a drop-in, non-referred basis for adults living with mental health and addictions. Please contact Cathy at 780-342-7765 or visit www.WellnessNetworkEdmonton.com for more information.
Lillian had been homeless for twelve years when she arrived at DECSA exhausted and discouraged. She was facing mental and emotional health challenges, and she was more than ready to find some stability. “I was broken, and I was trying to hide it, but I felt like I wasn’t worth anything,” she says.
Through our Assets for Success program, Lillian started to find her feet again. “Everyone at DECSA believed in me. They kept telling me I deserved something better, and I could get there.” The Assets team worked with her to gain several certificates and credentials that would show employers her credibility and open doors for consistent work. She completed training in First Aid/CPR, ProServe, construction safety, Workplace Hazardous Materials, Medical Administration, and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills.
Then, with guidance from the Assets team, she found work as a Personal Care Aide in a group home for children, so now she is using her skills and strengths to serve kids who face challenges.
Lillian received the financial aid she needed to rent an apartment, and she has been able to furnish it through donations from one of DECSA’s connections. Now Lillian is settling into her new life.
“I get up in the morning, and I look out my window, and I’m facing a lake! Last year I was homeless. Now I am in awe, and I’ll be grateful forever to DECSA because I’d lost hope in myself and they kept telling me I could get on my feet again. They believed in me, and I feel like they gave me back myself.”
We are so proud of Lillian, who has showed herself to be brave, determined, hard-working, and very capable. Congratulations, Lillian!
Every day at DECSA, we work with people who are living with shame because of differences they have, experiences they’ve had, and choices they’ve made.
We all live with shame, and it’s frightening to be vulnerable about the weak and damaged parts of ourselves, so we keep our secrets hidden.
But Brene Brown, a researcher who has been studying shame and vulnerability for over ten years, says, “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable…If we speak shame, it begins to wither.” Her research has shown that people actually become mentally healthier when they are vulnerable, and other researchers agree. Ziyad Marar, another scientist who has studied vulnerability says that the “shared and forgiving sense of frailty” that comes from being honest “is redemptive in a way that nothing else can be.”
At DECSA, we’re creating a place where people can honestly share their stories and find mental and emotional healing through vulnerability and acceptance because we know people need a place to be real.
In conclusion, we’d like to challenge you to ask yourself two questions today: “What parts of myself am I hiding?” and “Who can I be real with?” By being vulnerable, you free yourself to be yourself, and you give others courage to do the same.
PLEASE NOTE: As of August 21, intakes for our Assets for Success program are closed for the year.
If you have a mental health condition (depression, stress, phobia, anxiety, etc) and employment is your goal, then Assets for Success is the program for you!
Am I eligible for this program?
- Albertans 18 years of age or older
- Unemployed or marginally employed (less than 20 hours per week)
- Not eligible for Employment Insurance
- Self-disclosed mental health condition
Call us at (780) 474-2500 before August 21 to enrol!
Watch our new video below for more information.
When we talk about reasons for volunteering, we often think about how it nice it can look on a resume, or how rewarding it is to give back to our community. Sure it’s great to volunteer for those reasons, but what about the potential health benefits we can reap? Here are three reasons why volunteering might also be beneficial to your mind and body:
1. It can help with periods of depression
Volunteering provides you with an opportunity to meet new people, strengthen relationships, and create or expand your support network. Individuals who suffer from depression and other mental illnesses, are often at risk of becoming socially isolated. Volunteering gets you out of the house and keeps you in contact with other people, helping you through periods of loneliness by potentially developing a strong support network.
2. It can keep you physically active
Depending on what type of volunteer work you choose to do, you might also be able to give your body a workout while giving back to your community! Try walking dogs at a local shelter, helping out at youth group, or collecting food for your local food bank. Plus, studies show that people who volunteer on a regular basis have a lower mortality rate than those who don’t.
3. It can help reduce stress
According to experts, you are less likely to feel as stressed when you are distracted from your day-to-day problems by focusing your time on someone else. You may also find that the things that have been worrying you were not as big as you thought they were, making you feel a lot less stressed as a result.
Interested in volunteering your time at DECSA? Give us a call at 780-474-2500!
Theatre for Living in collaboration with Alberta Health Services, the University of Alberta and the Canadian Mental Health Association
maladjusted stops for two performances in Edmonton, Alberta on
February 27 at 7:30pm and February 28 at 2:00pm
Boyle Street Community League, 9538 – 103A Avenue
Tickets $15 available here
Information line: 780-735-4943
Theatre for Living’s critically acclaimed maladjusted is set to tour into 26 communities across BC & Alberta. Audiences are calling it a “thought provoking, gut wrenching, funny, sad and mind-broadening” piece of interactive theatre. maladjusted engages audiences with powerful images and authentic voices weaving together three very personal narratives: A young teenager struggling with sadness over her friend’s suicide is misdiagnosed by her doctor; a young homeless man who is legitimately taking prescription meds gets thrown into dangerous circumstances by social workers, who are from within a mechanizing system, trying their best to help him; and finally, there is all of us, unable to adjust to the needs of a maladjusted mental health sector, who become potential agents for change.
maladjusted takes us on an intimate journey, builds up to a breathtaking crisis and then STOPS. Next, at this heightened moment of suspense, we are invited to engage with the characters from a safe, entertaining and creative space where anything is possible!
Directed and “Joked” by Vancouver’s veteran theatre maker “local hero” and “international treasure” David Diamond, and performed by a very talented cast of patients and caregivers who really know the mental health system. maladjusted is two and a half hours of riveting, ground-breaking and perspective altering forum theatre.
The production has proven successful in reaching and involving diverse audiences, including families, mental health patients and those working in the mental health and counseling community in an essential dialogue. How? By opening up an opportunity for people who are living issues of stigmatization and mechanization of the system to articulate a narrative that allows all sides of the issue to explore practical and yet creative solutions; to engage in the complexities of real-life scenarios using theatre as a laboratory; to access conflict-transformation options in an empowering and highly entertaining way.
maladjusted is made possible thanks to the generous support of the following funders:
The Edmonton stop of the maladjusted tour is brought to you by the following community partners: