May 7-11 is Mental Health Week, and the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s #GetLoud campaign for this week focuses on lending your voice to the national conversation and helping to stop stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health problems and illnesses.
The conversation I’d like to start focuses in on the impact of mental health problems on small and under-resourced workplaces, specifically in the emergency medical services (EMS) and healthcare. (After all, it is also National Nursing week.) As a small business owner, it may be challenging to know how to provide support to employees when mental health concerns arise; you may not feel that you have the expertise, understand the steps to take or know how to start the conversation about workplace mental health.
Recently published research highlights the emotionally demanding nature of healthcare work, which can include heavy workloads, limited resources and exposure to traumatic events, violence and stress. Employers within these work environments are concerned about the impact of these factors and the recently passed Workplace Safety and Insurance Act (WSIA) policies for chronic mental stress and post-traumatic stress disorder. Employers are actively trying to understand what steps they can take to address chronic and traumatic stress in the workplace. In fact, participants in a PSHSA survey felt that mental health is a workplace health issue that warrants discussion. They also felt that appropriate actions should be taken to support workers and help workplaces address occupational factors that contribute to mental illness in the workplace.
For those of you who may be unaware of the new WSIA changes, here’s a quick summary. The WSIA now provides an allowance for Chronic Mental Stress claims for appropriately diagnosed mental stress injuries caused by a substantial work-related stressor arising out of and in the course of a worker’s employment. The Traumatic Mental Stress policy was also updated to provide an allowance for claims of an appropriately diagnosed mental stress injury caused by one or more traumatic events arising out of and in the course of a worker’s employment. Additionally, in 2016, presumptive legislation was passed for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among first responders.
PSHSA’s survey participants also expressed palpable concern that these policy changes will place a significant burden on employers. It is understandable that a small workplace may find all of these changes daunting. However, there is energy around the topic of mental health, and more resources are being made available to help workers and workplaces. A recently published article highlights research conducted by Drs. Sandra Moll, Scott Patten, Heather Stuart, Joy MacDermid and Bonnie Kirsch out of McMaster University geared to help increase mental health literacy within healthcare-specific environments. The research upholds that increasing mental health literacy is important because it can help build “knowledge and beliefs required to recognize, manage and prevent employee mental health problems.” Mental health literacy is an important step in addressing mental health in the workplace. Through education and awareness, workplaces may be able to address the fear that many people feel about speaking up and openly talking about mental health.
Dr. Moll and her colleagues ran a randomized, parallel-group trial exploring the impact of workplace mental health literacy training with healthcare employees which compared the healthcare-specific program they developed called Beyond Silence with the MHCC’s widely recognized Mental Health First Aid program, which is designed for a general audience. The research explored whether a customized contact-based education program would be more effective than standard mental health literacy in increasing help-seeking or outreach behaviours of workers in a healthcare setting. The study also looked at the effects of mental health literacy, attitudes towards coworkers with mental health issues and attitudes towards seeking professional treatment – all of which are important elements when creating a workplace mental health-focused program. The research found that, while Beyond Silence was not superior to the MHCC’s Mental Health First Aid program at improving help-seeking behaviours, “both programs increased mental health literacy, improved attitudes towards seeking treatment, and decreased stigmatized beliefs, with sustained changes in stigmatized beliefs more prominent in the Beyond Silence group”.
PSHSA believes that the outcomes achieved through running a program like Beyond Silence can encourage people to start conversations about mental health, thereby helping small business owners positively impact mental health awareness and help-seeking behaviours among staff. Even though it can seem daunting to take on such a complex issue, addressing mental health in the workplace may support the development of a positive work environment and culture. Positive work environments can support a reduction in stigmatizing beliefs, which then open the door to increased conversation and support for workplace mental health, then leading to increased help-seeking behaviours.
The Beyond Silence program covers a variety of topics related to the value of addressing workplace mental health in healthcare organizations, including dialogue about workplace mental health experiences and psychological health and safety. It covers the mental health continuum, the impact of stress, how mental illness may appear at work and how and when to support someone who is struggling. It also explores evidence-based approaches, mental health resources and how to match resources to a person’s unique needs.
PSHSA has partnered with Dr. Moll to continue her research. Our focus is on increasing mental health literacy in small and under-resourced healthcare and EMS workplaces across Ontario. As part of this, we are offering subsidized delivery of the Beyond Silence program to healthcare and EMS organizations with fewer than 100 employees. The program helps participants to develop an action plan for their workplace and encourages active participation by mental health champions.
To learn more about these research results and upcoming opportunities to participate, please register for our free webinar – Beyond Silence: Innovations in Workplace Mental Health Training for Healthcare Employees, May 16, 2018 from 12:00pm to 1:00pm.
Click here to learn more or to register for the subsidized Beyond Silence training program.