By Mary Deacon
While I’ve worked in mental health since 2010 I became passionate about it long before that, when my youngest brother David, a gifted, outgoing and popular young man in his final year of medical school, died by suicide. He had a common health issue: depression. He suffered – and I use that word purposefully – sufferedin silence for fear of stigma and discrimination, believing it could negatively affect his career. He also experienced self-stigma, believing it was more of a moral failing than an actual illness.
Indeed there was a time when I spoke about mental illness, among friends and family and then later through my work, when I was confronted with stigma head on. But things have changed and continue to change for the better. More people than ever are embracing mental health as an important social and health issue, helping make it a higher political priority. And conversations are taking place in the classroom, the home and around the boardroom table.
With 1 in 5 Canadians directly affected by mental illness – and all of us affected indirectly – we know that many come to work each day and suffer in silence. In fact, mental illness is the leading cause of workplace disability in Canada, costing the Canadian economy $20 billion annually from workplace losses alone.
Seeing an urgent need to better support mental health for all Canadians, in 2010 Bell launched the Bell Let’s Talk mental health initiative, with an initial commitment of $50 million over 5 years. Today, that commitment has grown to at least $100 million while our objectives remain to encourage people to talk openly about mental illness so that everyone gets the help they need, to help create mentally healthy workplaces, and to invest in projects that advance research and improve access to mental health supports and services.
We work in close partnership with the mental health community across the country, from our Community Fund advisors, subject matter experts, spokespeople, ambassadors and most of all people with lived experience, to help ensure that our efforts are authentic, coordinated and supportive of the great work being done in local communities everywhere. The ever increasing engagement and the personal stories of those involved are quite remarkable.
Since the first Bell Let’s Talk Day in 2011 asked people to join the conversation to help build awareness, acceptance and support, the day has evolved into one of the most popular social media campaigns in the world, truly a national and international mental health conversation, one that may not by itself change the world but could very well change, or even help save, a life. That’s why I wake up each morning with purpose as we work together for even greater change. I hope you join us to help eradicate stigma on January 31, 2018, when we embark upon our 8thBell Let’s Talk Day.
I often hear from Bell team members that the workplace training, wellness programs and resources we provide are helping our managers be more confident in their roles and equipping all team members with the knowledge to better support their own mental health and to understand how to support others.
As one the of Canada’s largest employers, Bell is committed to leading by example in workplace mental health and encourages greater adoption of The National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, which we helped fund and develop. The first such standard in the world, it offers guidance to Canadian businesses and other organizations on how to create a safe and healthy workplace that supports employee wellbeing and productivity.
At Bell, all leaders are required to complete the first 2 modules of the Workplace Mental Health Leadership Certificate program we developed in partnership with Morneau Shepell, and Queen’s University. The program provides leaders with an understanding of mental health literacy, how mental illness can affect the workplace and how to identify and support a team member who may be struggling. It also walks them through strategies for prevention, intervention and how to support a successful return to work after an employee absence, a crucial part of recovery.
When a leader successfully completes the 3rdmodule of the program, focused on understanding their scope and influence in promoting a mentally healthy workplace, they receive a certificate of achievement from Queen’s, which is proudly displayed in workspaces throughout Bell.
As I mentioned, for those experiencing a mental health issue, returning to work can be daunting, and requires special attention. Bell’s enhanced mental health return to work program is facilitated by a caseworker sensitive to the needs of people dealing with mental illness. They will facilitate meetings to ensure the process minimizes stress and accommodates the employee’s needs. Working with management and the employee ensures a more successful reintegration back into the work community and helps prevent relapse.
When I think back to my brother, and the millions of others, who for years suffered in silence, I am proud to be part of Bell Let’s Talk and the positive difference it is making in the lives of Canadians at home and in the workplace.