Leaders Bringing Mental Health Out of the Shadows

by | May 2, 2016 | Leadership, Mental Health, Women at Work

Last week, I was asked to participate in the CEO Health + Safety Leadership Network Roundtable on mental health in the workplace. It was a sold out event. There were over 80 people in the room, which isn’t surprising given that mental health problems and illnesses are the number one cause of disability in Canada[1].

Minister of Labour Kevin Flynn kicked things off with an emotional tug about the need to bring mental health out of the shadows and provide support to those who have been suffering alone for too long. His message resonated. He was talking to a passionate and motivated group of leaders. The people in the room weren’t there because they want to check mental health training off of their “to do” lists; they understand this is a long-term investment. Many already have supports and training programs in place, but they want to do more.

At my table, leaders talked about many facets of mental health from employees learning how to support colleagues with various conditions, to people managing the care of children and parents, while balancing the demands of work, to tragic situations like suicide. They discussed the tricky position of managers who are learning how to support the people who report to them but may also be dealing with challenges of their own and fear being judged or rendered incompetent if they open up. They told stories of visiting employees in their homes, reaching out to family members to provide support, and lending additional financial assistance when existing employee programs don’t cover the full cost of medications.

It is a complex issue, and stigma still exists, but it was inspiring to hear what these leaders are doing, and how committed they are to moving the needle even further. Of course, I was most impressed with their openness to communicating with one another and their employees about mental health. They are, indeed, bringing it out of the shadows.

I’ll be writing a white paper about this event. I’m looking forward to talking with experts on the topic, and learning more about the actions that participants are taking to create psychologically healthy and safe workplaces. Watch for more information coming soon.

[1] Mental Health Commission of Canada, Changing Directions, Changing Lives, The Mental Health Strategy for Canada.