Making Space and Time to Get the Mental Health Care You Need

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Last week, a dataset on mental health was released from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey, and the numbers are sobering. In the last year, approximately 2.8 million people in Canada over the age of 15 reported symptoms consistent with mental health or substance abuse disorders. This is roughly 10% of the population.*

*What is even more startling about this number is that it excludes people living on-reserve or in other Aboriginal settlements, full time members of the Canadian Forces, or the institutionalized population.

Having a mental or substance use disorder, experiencing higher levels of distress, or having two or more chronic physical health conditions were positively associated with reporting a need for mental health care. This is something we encounter frequently at Champions, where the combination of living with a disability and a mental illness can exacerbate symptoms of both conditions.

Counselling was reported as the most common type of care needed by respondents, and nearly 33% of people who had a need for mental health care said their needs were either not met or only partially met. Personal circumstances – like being too busy – were the most frequently reported reasons for people not receiving the mental health care they need.

Time, stress and general busyness can make taking care of our health difficult. It is interesting that those who required medication had the highest rating for having their needs met, over 90%. This suggests that certain parts of our health care system are more adept at treating mental illness than others. The treatment where we need to create time and space for ourselves, or for others, continues to be lacking.

If your workplace or personal life is so busy that you can’t find time to care for your mental health, then they are probably a source of or at the very least contributing to the problem. The best place to start is often to stop. At work, this means creating space to recognize the issues around mental health and get a dialogue going. Only when people begin to discuss and talk about mental illness in an open and honest way can solutions begin to reveal themselves.

Everything begins with workplace culture. And workplace culture rarely begins with a policy or forced workshop for staff. If you are a manager, ask yourself how many people in your workplace have a mental health issue. If the answer is zero, you most likely have a problem. Why? Because the odds of your workplace being the one place where the 1 in 10 Canadians with a mental health issue don’t work is exceedingly improbable. On the flip side, if your staff members are repeatedly taking stress leave, or extended absences from work, then you may also have a problem.

Emotional intelligence training can be a great place to start in the workplace. This can get employees to think about their own emotions and those of others. Building this kind of social support in the workplace can create conversation and be the building blocks of a more supportive culture. Once this conversation gets going then space will be created for more programmes which look after employee health - ones that people will take the time to engage with.

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