May is Mental Health Awareness month and it’s the perfect time to reflect on the past couple of years and how they’ve challenged you because they challenged all of us! Read the highlights from Dr. Sharon Moise’s sit-down with Koren Roth, Mental Health Manager of Medcor Canada, and promise yourself some time for self-care.
Dr. Moise: Can you talk about the difference between mental health and mental illness?
Koren: The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but there’s a big difference. Mental health is no different than physical health. We all have it. Some days we’re feeling really capable and strong, and other days we’re down or we’re stressed out. Mental illness is a condition that requires diagnosis and treatment. What I see here is that the majority of people don’t require a diagnosis or treatment for mental illness, they need someone to talk to about their mental health.
Dr. Moise: How can employers and supervisors normalize mental health?
Koren: If the people at the top of a company buy-in and believe that mental health and caring for their employees is important, it has a trickledown effect. Promoting the resources that they have available to employees, encouraging people to reach out and talk when they need to.
I believe it also makes you the employer of choice if you have really great mental health support, especially after two years of a pandemic. I know from clients and our own advocates that it’s an appealing factor when they come to work for us, that we offer a service like this. Nobody else has something quite like this.
We know that when people have an outlet and someone to talk to about everyday things, they’re more focused, they’re more productive, they’re ultimately safer at work, and truly know that their employer cares about them. So talk about it, spread the word, promote the resources you have, and tell your people we want you to be well!
Dr. Moise: And what are the mental health issues that you commonly see it?
Koren: It is predominantly stress. Between 45 and 55% of the sessions that I see on a regular basis are related to stress that could be work-related, family, financial, or health-related. After that, we really nail it down to different things around self-reflection, and managing thoughts. It has a lot to do with anxiety, recognizing triggers, and asking, how can we better manage this?
Or it might be things around work-life balance. So yes, I’m working overtime and I’m stressed out and it’s causing some issues in my home life. So how can I better manage time? Do I need to set some goals or boundaries? How am I taking care of myself in the meantime to manage this to the best of my ability?
Dr. Moise: What are signs that a manager or an employer can look out for that kind of indicate that their employee is struggling.
Koren: Setting the tone for an open, communicative space with your employees is key. The better you know your employees, the more likely you are to recognize if they’re not doing well. You might see them withdrawing a little bit. They used to eat lunch in the staffroom and now they’re not, they’re just not as vocal in meetings. You may also notice a decline in their hygiene, or that they’re not sleeping well, things like that. Any type of change can be an indicator that someone on your team is struggling.
Dr. Moise: And when an employer or a supervisor or a leader recognizes those changes that indicate that there might be an issue, what then?
Koren: I think it’s really important to create that space where an employee feels safe to share. They might not share everything that’s going on or their whole story. But even just to say to an employee, you know, set your phone down, stop looking at the computer, look, the person in the eyes be present and just ask them, how are you doing?
Just that first question, “How are you doing? You don’t seem like yourself.” Many times for somebody who is really struggling, that’s all they need. They need an opportunity or an open door to just start that conversation.
Dr. Moise: One question that I’m sure employees ask you about is, are the sessions confidential? How how is it’s a safe space for them to have that discussion?
Koren: I would never share that someone had a session with me. That’s up to the person if they want to share that. Lots of times I get other employees coming to me and I’ll say, How did you hear about me? And they’ll say, Oh, somebody on my team said that they talked to you and that you really helped them through a situation and that that is awesome.
And doesn’t that help to break the stigma as well? Right. Every peer-to-peer conversation that happens like that, promoting the service honestly, it just makes my heart swell. And I think the fact that they’re just willing to say, hey, I do it, you know, have you ever thought about talking with our mental health advocate? And lots of times that’s where they get the link to the booking site and those kinds of things, too, is peer-to-peer. They just say, hey, let me help you. I’ll even help you book a session.
Dr. Moise: Sometimes when people are in a dark place, the effort to make that first call or schedule that first appointment ends up being a challenge.
Koren: Absolutely. It’s scary for people who don’t know who’s going to pick up on the other end of that video call. And then to say the words out loud can be very terrifying for some people. I do talk to a lot of people who have had negative experiences with a mental health provider in the past. For the mental health advocate is really important then from right off the get-go to make that person feel comfortable.
Dr. Moise: I think people really need to know things have changed with the pandemic. I’m wondering what you’re seeing is the impact of COVID on mental health and mental illness.
Koren: When the lockdown orders came and everyone was told to stay home, they couldn’t be social and interact. That’s not normal, and it’s amplified things. I think the uncertainty that we were living with for two years, not knowing when the government might change the regulations when will I be able to see people, and when can I go back to work? Also amplified stress. And then as COVID lightened up and things started moving in a positive direction, we could go back to what was normal.
I can’t tell you the amount of sessions I’ve had where people say, I don’t even know if I can carry on a conversation with somebody in person anymore!’. There was a lot of social anxiety happening for everyone. We’re all just trying to do the best we can with what we’ve got. We can’t do anything to change the circumstances and the uncertainty that COVID brought, but we can control our reaction to it.
Dr. Moise: What are things that people can do to maintain or improve their mental health on a day-to-day basis?
Koren: I don’t think I do a single session where I don’t encourage people to carve some intentional time out in their day, or at some point in their week, to recharge. People know the term self-care, but I think a lot of men I talk to have this idea that I want them to go have a bubble bath, and that’s just not the case! You certainly can take a bath, but anything that you can do that lights you up, gets you excited, and gives you a break from the outside stress in your life is self-care.
Self-care is where you rest your mind, your body, and you take a break from the stress that is going on in your life, and you kind of refuel. That could be watching a hockey game with a friend. The only thing I ask at that time is you’re not talking about the stress in your life. You’re enjoying the company of your friend, you’re enjoying the hockey game. Remind yourself that if I don’t do this for myself, I’m not going to be good for anybody.
View the full interview here: