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We Must Address Mental Well-Being In The Workplace

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DEPRESSION
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"The opposite of depression is not happiness, the opposite of depression is vitality." - Andrew Solomon

About a decade ago my doctor suggested I have a sleep test. My older brother and father had been diagnosed with sleep apnea and my somewhat irregular sleep patterns caused her to recommend an overnight lab test. Weeks later, as I sat in the sleep clinic in front of a poster itemizing the 20 common symptoms of sleep apnea, I was intrigued by the first symptom which was written in dark, bold, capital font -- DEPRESSION.

"Did I have depression?" I asked myself. I had noticed that I did go into a funk every now and then, especially around Christmas and perhaps again during the early summer. But was that depression? Isn't that just regular human mood swings or what our grandparents would call "the blues" or melancholy?

My questions were answered after I was formally diagnosed and treated for sleep apnea. I had, to my surprise, frequently experienced depression due to my constant condition of sleep deprivation caused by the sleep apnea.

At the time of writing this article Bell Canada is preparing for its annual "Let's Talk" Day. In my view, this impressive program has significantly increased awareness of mental health issues and reduced the stigma associated with conditions like depression. But what does depression and other forms of mental health issues like bi-polar, schizophrenia, addiction, etc. have to do with today's work environment? Well, the short answer is: everything.

There are significant costs of not properly addressing mental well-being in the workplace.

There are significant costs of not properly addressing mental well-being in the workplace such as: loss of productivity, increased absenteeism, lack of engagement and what some call "psychic absenteeism" i.e. a person is physically present but psychically not there.

It is estimated that mental health issues cost the Canadian economy $51 billion a year, of which $20 billion alone would be lost productivity. Furthermore, the Mental Health Commission of Canada, states that mental health is the fastest-growing disability claim in Canada's workplace with over 21 per cent of the working population currently experiencing mental health problems.

I started to participate in Bell's Let's Talk campaign three years ago. I emailed my entire contact list the program links and included my firsthand experience with depression. Within a few weeks I got a thank-you email from a mother who had been trying to help her son come out of a longstanding depression. After he read my email, he decided to have a sleep test. A year later, I learned that his depression had significantly reduced -- in direct proportion to the improvement in his sleep.

So, what can you do about these issues? According to CAMH there are at least five things:

1) Listen to your language. Have you ever referred to someone as "crazy" or "nuts". Have you ever wondered why they may be acting out of character?

2) Educate yourself by understanding the most common warning signals and start to separate fact from myth.

3) Be kind -- treat people the way you would treat them if they had cancer or even a bad flu. Mental health challenges are simply a form of disease, and your kindness can establish trust and demonstrate support.

4) Listen, and ask questions. Trivializing mental health conditions by telling people to "Snap out of it!" or asking them "What's wrong with you?" will create a different reaction than simply asking "How can I help?" Telling a person battling mental health illness to "snap out of it" is like telling a person walking with a broken leg to "stop being lazy." Instead, treat it as a learning opportunity -- ask how you can help.

5) Talk about it. Breaking the silence will reduce the stigma associated with most mental health issues. This what talking about mental illness is all about.

It is estimated that one in five Canadians will experience some form of mental illness in their working lives. Leaders and organizations that care about mental health issues realize that this can have a direct impact on the workplace environment and the retention of best talent. Furthermore, mental health challenges will affect every person in Canada sooner or later -- directly or indirectly.

I am happy to say that my depression has virtually disappeared since my diagnosis but I am still a strong advocate for opening up the discussion about mental health issues. Join me on January 25 in participating in the Bell Canada Let's Talk day.

Become a part of this worthy movement and pass it on!

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