Tips & Tools for Mitigating Mental Health Risk and Promoting Mental Health

By Dr. Bill Howatt and Louise Bradley

The Conference Board of Canada, Mental Health Commission of Canada and Workplace Safety & Prevention Services have partnered to share mental health resources to support employees and leaders coping with the impact of COVID-19 on mental health.

To help us determine what kinds of resources may best support the mental health of people in Canada, please consider completing this five-minute survey:

Chances are, if you ask an employee how they manage and monitor their physical health, they will easily answer your questions. Ask them the same questions about their mental health, and you might stump them.

If COVID-19 has a silver lining, it might be that this unprecedented pandemic has illuminated what mental health advocates have long known: our mental wellness is every bit as important as our physical health.

A new Nanos Research survey conducted for the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) found that Canadians are four times more likely to report their mental health is worse or somewhat worse than before COVID 19.

And, while we are starting to see signs of a downward curve, and many provinces are looking at how they will gradually begin to reopen, the challenges wrought by COVID-19 are not going to disappear overnight. Many of us are at risk for mental health problems as a result of stress due to isolation, unemployment and unstable finances, strained relationships, loss, conflict, and for some, PTSD and trauma, to name just a few.

The survey found that more than twice as many participants reported feeling stressed regularly or all the time since the onset of COVID-19, with fears over physical well-being and personal finances cited as the primary reasons.

Leaders play a significant role in promoting mental health

As a leader, you can help your employees understand these risks and reinforce the importance of maintaining mental health in the same way we prioritize our physical wellbeing.

  1. Take care of you own mental health - Mental health concerns do not discriminate by title or salary. Taking care of your own mental health is one of the best ways to be sure you are able to support others. The old adage of putting on your own oxygen mask first when flying is equally true when navigating the mental health ramifications presented by COVID-19. Put simply, it is difficult to support employees who may be at risk when you are struggling yourself.
  2. Be observant and accessible - You should never diagnose mental health concerns. However, it is absolutely appropriate for leaders and managers to observe employees’ performance and behaviours, and raise a flag if you note a concern. If you see a change in behavior or attitude that is negatively affecting performance, don’t just assume that it is a behavioural issue. Instead, seek to understand the situation. This is called “Duty to Inquire.” It involves taking a non-threatening, confidential approach and simply asking the employee an open question regarding the observed change in behaviour. For example, “It is not like you to be late or miss assignments. I have noticed over the last couple of weeks you missed two assignments and have been late three times. Can you help me understand what has changed?” This question provides the employee an opportunity to share that they are having a hard time or experiencing stress or a mental health concern, which gives you the opportunity to provide accommodation if needed.

Tools to help you and your team manage risk and stay mentally fit

  • It isn’t always easy to detect the signs of Mental Health Risk (PDF), so to help you and your employees do so, we’ve created a poster that describes signs and symptoms of stress and mental distress, and tips for when to seek support.
  • The MHCC has also created a series of tip sheets that serve as simple reference guides.
  • If you or one of your team members feels more support is needed, and would like to develop a personalized mental fitness plan, be sure to take advantage of the University of New Brunswick’s Mental Fitness Program.

Much like a physical fitness plan, following a daily mental fitness plan with intention can reduce risk and promote mental health. After all, as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.


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