On January 22, 2015, a national commission released a compressive study on the state of Canada's mental health. This report helps to provide details relating to 13 key indicators to "paint a fuller picture of mental health in Canada" the commission said.
In order to determine how many people experience positive mental health and how many struggle, extensive details relating to 60 mental health indicators involving children, youth, adults and seniors in various settings will be released in April 2015.
The initial findings published late January indicated that Canadian suicide rates are higher than in some other G8 nations. The study noted that 3,728 people or 10.8 for every 100,000 in a population, killed themselves in 2011. In addition, 16.5 percent reported very high levels of stress for those age 15 and over who are caregivers to an immediate family member with a long-term health condition. Another area of concern highlighted in the report involved self-harm. Close to 20 percent of university students said they engaged in self-harm.
What does this mean for the working population and their respective employers? Many employees are either in the sandwich generation or heading there quickly. This means that they are providing care-giving support to elderly family members while also having children of their own to support and we've learned that these kids may be quite stressed as well.
As captured in the image associated with this post, a 2010 General Social Survey (GSS), reported that 27 percent of Canadian workers described their lives on most days as quite a bit or extremely stressful. This analysis uncovers that on any given day, 3.7 million working adults felt high levels of stress and 6.3 million or 46 percent said they were a bit stressed.
I've blogged in this topic before, but I feel it is worth repeating because over time, employers are affected by productivity loss due to stress-related absenteeism, decreased work output and an increase in disability claims. Although not all stress is work-related, employees don't park their worries at the workplace entrance. They bring their woes right in with them and the result can affect their performance as well as that of those around them.
Employers who pay close attention to the warning signs are in a better position to address mental health issues head on. The signs of mental illness may not be easily identified all the time, but with proper education, awareness, and campaigns to help eliminate the stigma, a great deal can be done to positively affect change.
For a copy of this first-ever national-level set of indicators that identifies and reports on the mental health of Canadians, please click here. There is so much that can be done to keep workplaces healthy and safe. Knowledge and understanding are key steps to begin this dialogue with employees. Please contact us for additional information and ways to increase employee awareness about available mental health support services. We're just a call or an email away. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
February is a great month to remind us to take good care of our heart. It beats continuously without us having to give it any notice or conscious thought, which also creates the potential for us to take this perpetually drumming maestro for granted.
Are you taking steps daily to keep your heart healthy?
What if we look at this question from an organizational perspective? How effective are employers at focusing on the cardiovascular state of their employees?
If we look at this question simply through a financial lens, when employees don't take good care of their ticker, the costs can quickly add up in health care premiums, hospital stays, prescription meditation, and disability claims. It is in the best interest of the enterprise to encourage and remind employees to be heart healthy.
The statistics from www.heart.org and via the American Heart Association create a compelling story for action. I've included a PDF with details, but in a nutshell, cardiovascular disease is the leading global cause of death at 17.3 million deaths per year, and it clams more lives than all forms of cancer combined. Direct and indirect costs of its associated diseases represent more than $320.1 billion.
It is never too late to address this topic or revisit it with employees on a regular basis. On the plus side, a short campaign to raise awareness that gently reminds employees, doesn't have to cost an arm or a leg. Nowadays, there are so many excellent and free resources available to promote heart health.
Employers don't need to reinvent the wheel or dream up original communication campaigns. There are plenty of online resources available with ideas for creating fun challenges, events and communications. The Mayo Clinic offers helpful tips to foster a heart-healthy diet. Recommendations include controlling portion size, eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as limiting fats and cholesterols and salt rich foods. WebMD promotes tips for a heart-healthy lifestyle and references terms like DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) to help lower blood pressure, or TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) to help lower cholesterol levels.
The American Heart Association also hosts an informative Watch, Learn, Live video series that features popular topics such as: high blood pressure and cholesterol.
Looking at trends in the group benefits plans we service is only one aspect of our offering. Providing our clients with guidance, best practices, and practical resources to foster a healthy workplace is also part of our value proposition. I invite you to contact us. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
It seems as if each month has its own health-related theme. October owns Healthy Workplace Month, November boasts a focus on Financial Literacy and February, well, it beats for healthy heart month in Canada and American Heart month in the US.
With this theme in mind, I'm focused on providing tips and resources related to creating a healthy workplace.
Increasingly, we are hearing and reading about workplaces suffering the effects of sitting disease. Many of us are in roles that see us spend upwards of 8 our more hours sitting or slouching in a chair. We sit at work all day and then we go home and sit some more while watching television or doing more computer work. The result leads to the development of lower back strain, aches and pains in the shoulder, neck and wrists. If untreated, over a prolonged period of time, the impact of sitting disease can lead to chronic disease that costs an employer far more in health benefit costs than what might have been spent on a quick and effective workstation ergonomic assessment.
My initial tip for addressing the impact of sitting disease is to encourage employees that getting active in simple, easy ways can make a huge difference. Employers who reinforce walking meetings or introduce sit-stand workstations do their employees a great service. Even taking short standing breaks to move hands and feel in order to improve circulation will help. A catchy tag line like, "Get fit where you sit" can be built upon as part of a wellness committee's theme for raising awareness and affecting behaviour change.
A message of this nature benefits from repetition and timely prompts for employees to get heart healthy. Dale Carnegie offered great advice, "Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them." Apparently it take hearing or reading something 7 times before it sinks in. Therefore, don't worry if a message is repeated particularly when it comes to mental health awareness.
Here are some tips to help employers raise awareness without negatively impacting their budget:
1) leverage free online resources and remind employees during a lunch 'n learn, a webinar, a 2-minute video message or a desk drop flyer.
2) provide employees with positive and clear messages about ways they can keep themselves physically and mentally healthy. Reminders include tips about the power of laughter, the benefits of breathing exercises, meditation and yoga, as well as skills time management techniques. It never hurts anyone to get reminders on these life skill topics.
3) As mentioned at the beginning of this post, hop on the 'theme of the month' bandwagon and leverage these theme weeks or months to amplify your message to create fun and practical workplace challenges or events. A challenge that lasts 21 days is ideal because we've learned that it takes that long to change behaviour and form a new habit.
Dates to remember: Mental Health Week in May, Mental Illness Awareness Week in October. For employees looking for statistics to beef up their communications, consider www.wellnessfits.ca for additional resources.
4) Walk the talk. Remind senior leaders that their actions are noticed by staff and the more they endorse and support a healthy workplace, the greater the chances that the culture will make a positive shift that saves the enterprise in immeasurable ways. This includes helping supervisors and employees clearly define roles and responsibilities as well as developing policies or guides related to email response time expectations, work from home arrangements and flexible hours.
Creative ways to foster a healthy workplace and heart health continue to evolve. Many of the resources are free. We have access to a number of them and I invite you to contact us to learn more. We're here to help so that you can focus on what you do best.
Dave Dickinson, B.Comm, CFP, CLU, CHFC
Experienced Benefits Specialist ready to optimize your group benefits and pension plans.