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What are the Building Blocks of an Inclusive Workplace Mental Health Program?

Mental health does not discriminate. So, how do you design a program for different people? With today’s the emphasis on DE&I, watch this conversation around inclusivity, choice and innovation around workplace mental health.

Video: 08:06

Want to hear more of their insights? You can access the full webcast here.


Nancy Fonseka: So for a mental health program to be effective, it needs to be inclusive. So, help us understand what some of those building blocks are to ensure that we reach the broadest audience possible. So, from your perspective, at MindBeacon, what are those building blocks?

Melissa Alvares: Yeah, I mean, the first thing, I guess, the first step is really acknowledging that people are falling through the cracks. And I think sometimes, we applaud ourselves for being on lists, like Great Places to Work or, for having all these [mental health] programs in place, but we're not really looking at utilization and understanding who's using it. We might not know that there's a big chunk of employees that aren't accessing it, and it might not be because they don't have mental health challenges.

This was one of the other barriers that Dr. Amaria just talked about - we need to foster that workplace culture where people understand and accept that they know mental health challenges are okay to talk about, it's okay to talk about it with your boss. I remember reading an article in the newspaper the other day around a workplace where an employee thought: “You know, hey, I feel like I don't have the tools for a safe workplace.” This was something about physical health, and she felt nervous to talk to her boss about getting that safety equipment. She went home, and her mom said: “Oh, whatever you do, do not mention that to your boss. Be quiet and appreciative that you have a job.” And, you know, she didn't want to speak up about something that was about their physical health. And physical health doesn't have as much stigma, right? So, you can imagine what the [mental health] stigma associated with some of these groups are, when it comes to talking to your manager.

So, if managers are opening up that dialogue, and really - that comes to that first point about having leaders stand up - share their own stories, it helps. I personally try to do so as well. In my one on ones and at my team meetings, I make sure that we're talking about mental health. People see their leaders talking about it, then they realize that it's okay for them to seek help, and to speak out about it as well.

Educating managers is also so important. We talked about dentists coming in and educating you from such a young age about brushing your teeth, the importance of dental hygiene and going to see professionals, you know? You see 80% of people using their dental benefits, because they're trained and understand the importance. Why then is it for mental health benefits that it's at only 10%, right? We're just not training people to that same level.

A big thing is really about choice - that's the title of our webinar today. Dr. Amaria mentioned earlier that the one option is talking face-to-face with someone by making an appointment, which really, for the most of these mental health programs, is the only option. And so, if you're not comfortable with that, then you just have no supports, right? We need to provide that choice. We also need to focus on the entire care continuum - that's one of those buzz words. So, what is care continuum really mean? It means that we're talking about prevention - self care, all the way to professional intervention. If we can get people in those early stages of feeling a little bit of heightened stress or anxiety, and reaching out for supports that are lighter touch, maybe that are self-guided or anonymous, then you even prevent them from having the need to seek that professional care. Then it also becomes those baby steps - like you're feeling comfortable, you're feeling a knowledge around mental health and when you try to reach out for therapy, it's not this foreign thing.

You know, I was thinking that my journey at MindBeacon started just nine months ago. I feel like being immersed in the knowledge, having meetings with Dr. Amaria has made me feel like I've been going through an education. That education makes me feel more comfortable and makes me comfortable talking about mental health with my friends and my peers. By creating that culture, we're kind of, making sure that there are supports across that whole continuum.

Another big thing is data, right? How do you know if everyone's accessing your mental health program? Do you have that kind of data that shows outcomes, different segments? Obviously, we want to be anonymous, and we never want to share personal information. With Great Places to Work, you guys do a great job at making people feel secure that the answers they're giving are anonymous, and that no one will ever be able to trace it back. It's the same thing with mental health. We want to be able to measure stuff, we want to be able to show those outcomes, but in an anonymous way where people understand that others do not know that they are accessing this program.

The next thing is sustained awareness. So, a lot of people launch a [mental health] program. I remember in previous jobs where you get your health benefits plan, and someone comes in, and they do a huge big lunch and learn ,and you hear about all these great supports, and then it's silence, it’s tumbleweeds - it's never mentioned again. And so, you forget. We all have so many things on our plates and we have to make sure that it's not like this ‘one big launch’, but something that is sustained and that we keep the conversation going throughout the year. There's Bell Let's Talk day, there's Mental Illness Awareness Week, there's all these things going on that allow us to keep that conversation going throughout the year.

Then the last one is, protecting and emphasizing privacy. And I feel like not everyone will be comfortable walking into that cubicle, where there's a mental health provider. It's great to have that ability and that access, available right in your office but we still know that as far as we've come, stigma is still there, and stigma is even more heightened in some of these cultural groups. And so, we need to be constantly telling people that this is private, that nobody knows - by really showing that this is something that they can feel secure about.

Dr Khush Amaria: That's a great and deserves such great building blocks on time, there isn't much else I can add to it but again, I'll try to use a very specific example. We can think about how we might put this in place.

Let's take let's take members of the BIPOC community. So we know that there, we have to pay some special attention to some of the challenges individuals are faced with, especially with stats that tell us this person is more likely to suffer from depression, and they're less likely to get the help they need. They experience lack of representation, the microaggressions, the unconscious bias - all those stressors are going to impact that person's mental health and their psychological safety when at work, right? And this stat always alarms me too - we have data that shows that when members of racialized communities start treatment, the dropout rates are higher. So, meaning that individual doesn't even get the full or the right dose of mental health support needed to get better. So, all of those challenges, all those barriers and building these new building blocks would be really great.

And you know, mental health issues are usually to a certain degree invisible to others, but they're really real for the people who've experienced them. Most of us, unfortunately, in the last year, because of the pandemic, have experienced anxiety, loneliness, depression, sleep trouble, whatever it might be. And for some people, it was the first time they really had those challenges. But I think it gives everyone a perspective on what it's like to live with on a day to day basis, if you are one of those one in five that have a need or one if four that have a mental health condition. I wish I could suggest a magic fix or like a checklist to cover off all the building blocks for inclusivity. But we know it's more nuanced than that but I still really believe that there are really effective and concrete changes that we make. So you know, I'm always so in awe of the responses we get after it come speak to an organization about mental health choices and supports. Sometimes it's just feedback that it was great to see leaders championing programs for mental health by inviting MindBeacon and myself to speak. Sometimes it's from people reporting that they feel for the first time that what they are feeling or struggling with is valid and real, or that others like them are struggling and facing barriers as well. And so, every time we speak up and keep those conversations going, we see some really tangible outcomes.

Want to hear more of their insights? You can access the full webcast here.