CSAE Trillium Opens the Conversation on Mental Health in the Workplace

By Robert J. Pye

When an elephant was released in the middle of the Trillium Chapter’s Winter Summit agenda, CSAE attendees certainly did not ignore it.

The elephant in the room is a metaphor. It refers to a highly obvious issue or risk that everyone feels and sees, but does not want to discuss. In this case, it was mental health in the workplace.  The empathic mindset of attendees had for this issue represents the kind of example all leaders should be setting, especially in non-profit and association workplaces.

The elephant in this situation does not deserve the stigma it has attracted. Fortunately, the days of hushed or non-existent discussion around mental health is fading away thanks to national anti-stigma campaigns (Bell Let’s Talk for instance) and heroic (and at times tragic) stories surrounding high-profile individuals (such as Robin Williams). Meanwhile, in the association world, if the anti-stigma reaction at the Winter Summit was any indication, attitudes and perceptions are progressively changing.

During the CSAE Trillium Chapter’s Winter Summit, held this past February in Niagara Falls, attendees embraced the opportunity to open up the conversation on the staggering impact of mental health problems in the workplace. The number are staggering indeed. Almost 7 million Canadians will experience a mental health illness this year. Depression is the fourth leading cause of disability, expected to become the second leading cause (next to heart disease) in 2020.

“The statistics say one in five people will experience mental illness directly, but mental health issues affect everyone,” said Cheryl Legate, a professional mental health first aid trainer with 25-years of experience in this important health care field.

Cheryl presented to a packed afternoon workshop audience at the Winter Summit – barely enough room for the infamous elephant. Workshop participants soon learned that whether obvious or incognito, mental health illness is all around us. The workplace is no exception.

Each year, $51 billion in productivity is lost due to mental health problems, explained Cheryl. She referred to a long list of mental health realities as “silent suffering in the workplace.”

However, the suffering is more than just decreased productivity. Workplaces also experience safety problems, morale issues, and absenteeism or, on the contrary, “presenteeism” whereby staff make it to work, but they’re not at full capacity. Cheryl encouraged CSAE attendees to consider how the negative consequences of the stigma can lead to isolation in the workplace.

Cheryl said her CSAE Trillium presentation was merely a 45-minute snippet of a two-day Mental Health First Aid Certification that she provides to managers and frontline employees at all levels.

“I train people on how to open up the conversation,” said Cheryl, stressing first and foremost the recognition and prevalence of mental health concerns in the workplace.

“Managers take mental first aid training and when they see difficulty with an employee they are able to consider that, well, maybe it’s not laziness or, maybe it’s not lack of motivation. We need to start treating mental health with the same importance that we treat physical health,” she said.

Mental health matters, and association professionals need to be proactive not only about the well being of fellow staff, they should be aware of their own signs and symptoms.

CSAE members and supporters are dedicated to their associations and there’s a balance when it comes to serving great members and causes and making time to reduce stress and anxiety.

Among the list of strategies to reduce daily anxiety, Cheryl promotes adequate sleep (eight hours minimum), and 20 to 30 minutes of exercise each day. Association members should also “refrain from isolating” — which is perhaps another reason to network and share experiences at an upcoming CSAE Trillium Chapter event. Don’t mind the elephants!

Robert Pye is the Manager, Business Development & Corporate Messaging for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.