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Mental health in organizations: how are people doing?

Virtual care · Jan 20, 2021

Stress has become an all too familiar feeling for many of us during the COVID-19 pandemic. What if an integrated approach to mental health, combining best-in-class virtual services, could help us all?

It is looming. We read about it. We discuss it. And more than anything, we experience it. The pandemic has changed our daily routine dramatically. And it is affecting most of us in significant ways. In this context, challenges regarding mental health issues have never been more topical than they are today. 

New data from the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) and the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction suggests that the number of people in Canada reporting strong mental health has gone down 23 %, a drop from about two-thirds of the population to less than half. 1.6 million Canadians have expressed an unmet need for mental health care, and 7.5 million people in Canada are reporting living with a mental health problem or illness1. And many still don’t have access to the right treatment.2 But this reality is hopefully about to shift. 

To be part of any new perspectives, it is up to the workplace to welcome new practices. "Workplaces are realizing that they have a large role in good mental health. Especially through COVID-19, organizations are thinking more thoroughly about the mental health of their team members", states Dr. Dominik Nowak, faculty member at the University of Toronto and Chair of the TELUS Medical Advisory Council.

Virtual care to the rescue

According to a 2020 Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) survey, depression levels are more prevalent than ever in our country. By age 40, around 1 in 2 Canadians will have or have had a mental illness3.

We have just learned that 1 in 4 Canadians are feeling lonely, occasionally or most of the time. And as many again are still feeling moderate to extreme levels of anxiety4

Amongst them, respondents with children in the household reported higher levels of anxiety as compared to those without children in this age group. Women reported higher levels of loneliness as compared to men.. “We are also finding disparities in essential workers and young people. The good news is that leaders in organizations want to do better in recognizing this shared problem, exploring solutions, and changing culture", recalls Dr. Nowak. 

Aiming to new practices

It has been a dream for HR strategists to orient their team members towards good health care, supported by good primary care and a dedicated team of mental health specialists. Psychiatrists, psychologists, family doctors, social workers, and other health professionals are currently helping many companies these days to improve their policies and provide adequate resources for individuals suffering from mental disorders, as well as with people looking to stay proactive around their mental health. 

`` As a society, it is important for us to break down the friction between people thinking we need help, and actually reaching out for professional support ``, recognizes Dr. Nowak. 

With the pandemic, we all need, more than ever, to have that trusted voice on the other end of a device. We are entering to an era where each Canadian should be connected to their trusted healthcare professional or to a physical clinic with one click. 

To make it happen, everyone has a role to play. For organizations, HR experts are first in line to assist in raising awareness of the benefits of good mental health practices and implementing strategies to maintain a healthy working environment. The first step in encouraging virtual mental health care is in making sure people are fully aware of the tools and programs that are available, and how to utilize them. 

`` Everyone has a part to play. Of course, workplaces have a key role in fostering a culture that promotes good health, kindness, and support ``, shares Dr. Nowak. 

In a workplace context, we are all partly responsible for raising awareness. "We can talk about a sort of `` social contract `` between employers and employees to recognize and promote good health, says Nowak. We have to normalize mental health as part of our shared experience. In that sense, our shared humanity makes us all part of the way forward." 

On a continuum

Previously, mental health in the workplace was seen in a more global way. Some organizations, who may have been looking at this question of wellness with a certain stigma, or on a fairly basic level, are now looking at it in a much nuanced, tailored way. 

"We are looking at mental health as a continuum, and from the lens of health promotion, explains Dr. Nowak. It is not only a matter of being well or feeling bad. It is normal for us all to be in different parts of this continuum, day-by-day. As HR leaders, our work is to proactively support people wherever they might find themselves on the continuum of mental health. It’s important to have tailored strategies,” insists Dr. Nowak. 

Are we actually listening?

We are all getting more comfortable to talk about mental health in the workplace. “It is a shared responsibility, but I do believe that kind of leadership needs to be supported at the top. It is up to the leaders to set the culture where these conversations are seen as proactive and genuine”, says Dr. Nowak. 

Innovative tools and models of care are constantly being developed and implemented. But one of the first and very basic skills is our capacity to listen. `` When we ask how are you doing?, we have to ask it in a way that signals authenticity, listen for the answer, and normalize ways to seek further help``, says Dr. Nowak

`` The people we work with are highly resilient, talented, competent people. Even so, it’s okay for anyone to struggle, and be in that yellow, orange, or red zone sometimes. As leaders, it’s on us to make sure they’re supported ``, insists Dr. Nowak. 

We have the tools to improve mental health treatment in Canada – one citizen, one employee, and one employer, at a time… What if we succeed? What a wonderful world we may soon live in. 

The advantages of virtual care

1. Breaking down barriers and stigma against Mental Health

Conversations about MH issues in organizations are becoming more common, and more normalized. It has to become an everyday concern.

2. Helping people to connect with relationship-based care

We know that people who are able to regularly see a trusted health professional, end up having higher quality care. And people may be more responsive to care recommendations, because they are tailored and come from a place of trust.

3. Increasing access 

People living in rural, remote, or northern communities are often left without the same access to care. Every Canadian deserves high quality care.

4. Saving time

We no longer have to miss as many days of work for in-person appointments. Not only do we avoid having to book time off to seek care, but we save that precious time for ourselves and our loved ones. 

5. Being proactive

“If seeing a health professional is made easier, we know that people tend to consult more quickly for mental health concerns”, states Dr. Nowak. “As a result, we are able to be proactive.” 


TELUS Health featured solutions :

Mental Health and Virtual Care

TELUS Health is committed to supporting Canadians and healthcare professionals with integrated technologies that promote safety, security and support better home and community-based care delivery. Some examples include:

  • TELUS Health Care Centre (in conjunction with 16 in-person, remove and virtual locations across Canada)

  • Akira by TELUS Health (for employers, plan administers and insurers)

  • Babylon by TELUS Health

  • Espri (app for first responders)