#GetLoud About Mental Illness in the Workplace

May 3, 2017

When is the last time your employer spoke to you about mental health? 

Every day we have workplace conversations about health and safety. These include discussions about steel-toed boots, fire hazards, asbestos, ergonomics, first aid and other physical hazards. But, how many times have you had a conversation about stress, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or mental and emotional hazards? 

Mental health problems are often not visible and therefore not talked about. Despite this, thousands of workers have to stop working every day due to mental health problems. 

That’s why BCGEU members have been asking for training and resources to support mental health at the workplace and at home. 

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Week, I want to share what the BCGEU is developing to maintain members’ mental health.

Our Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) team has completed instructor training programs to offer Mental Health First Aid courses to our members. In late May and early June, we’ll be offering a pilot course to OH&S representatives in locals 303 and 803 and from there make plans on offering the course to the broader membership, starting with OH&S representatives across the province.

The workshop will provide participants with skills and knowledge to help people manage potential or developing mental health problems in themselves, a family member, a friend or colleague. Program participants will learn to identify signs and symptoms of people experiencing mental illness and give them the tools they need to respond and refer them to professional resources.

On top of the course, we are in the early stages of developing Peer Support Networking Teams. Our hope is to train peers on the shop floor to support coworkers experiencing mental health problems. While this program is not meant to replace professional support, peer support networks can provide immediate support while the worker seeks longer term counselling through their employer or community. 

Many collective agreements also include employee and family assistance programs. If you, a coworker, or one of your dependents is currently suffering from mental health problems, we encourage you to read your collective agreement or speak to your employer to find out if you are eligible for this service. You can look up and refer to your collective agreement by clicking here

Most importantly, however, it is crucial that we are open about mental illness. While it is not visible, mental illness can be as devastating as a physical illness or injury. We can only begin to address the issue if we start recognizing it and talking about it like we do with physical illness and injury. 

If you have an experience or lessons you would like to share about mental health, I encourage you to talk with your friends, family and coworkers and start the conversation at home and in the workplace.

If you have any questions about the Mental Health First Aid course or the Peer Support Networking Teams, you can contact our OH&S team at ohs@bcgeu.ca

You can also join the Mental Health Awareness Week conversation over social media using the hashtag #GetLoud.

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