Posted by Michelle Normandeau on October 30, 2020
Michelle Normandeau

As part of Dialogue’s recent Humanizing Healthcare virtual conference, mental health innovator Stéphane Grenier – speaker, author, and retired Canadian military Lieutenant-Colonel – spoke about human interaction in the workplace as the missing link in mental health.

Time for a paradigm shift

Despite decades of campaigning around the need to talk about it, Grenier, who’s come close to suicide on four separate occasions, believes the main reason we’ve yet to make any real headway in mental health is lack of proactive workplace support.

  • Close to 50% of managers report knowing little or nothing about depression as an illness
  • Almost half of employees feel they cannot acknowledge an illness and still get ahead in their careers
  • Only 35% seek treatment

Most workplaces, says Grenier, view mental health support from a clinical perspective. And while he knows from personal experience that clinical treatment is extremely helpful, good benefits and an excellent EAP program are just 2 legs of a 3-legged stool.

Retooling workplace perceptions

Although interesting, brain education isn’t very practical when it comes to creating a supportive workplace. “Knowing the medical specifics of my diagnosis,” explains Grenier, “isn’t helpful to my colleagues. Knowing how they can support me is.”

To overcome the embarrassment, lack of trust, and perception-based worries that exist around mental health, the first thing organizations need to do is help workers understand that:

  • The brain, like the body, is not immune to injury
  • Recovery from mental illness is an ongoing process that requires enormous support 

“In the workplace, we’ve tended to only see injury and disability through a physical lens: you break a leg or get sick, you get treatment, you heal or get cured.”

Operational stress injuries, however (a term Grenier coined some years ago), are typically the result of trauma, fatigue, grief, or moral conflict. And while injured individuals may never be “cured” or symptom-free, they can recover and carry on with their lives.

Grenier’s best advice? "Start viewing and talking about mental health through a non-clinical lens, in a way that’s complementary to – not a replacement for – clinical services," he says.

As organizations support individuals in getting the clinical care they need, they should consider what they’re doing between medical appointments to help workers recover from mental health challenges.

Workplace peer support: the third leg of the stool

The sooner an individual gets help, the sooner things can start to get better. Developing a robust, accountable peer support program allows workers who have struggled with mental health themselves - and who maintain a positive state of recovery – to nudge colleagues toward accessing available healthcare sooner than they otherwise would. 

According to Grenier, organizations also need to rethink their mental health education and training by:

  • Engaging: Engage employees with the help of third-party educators capable of adapting their content to individual workplace realities

  • Educating: Train everybody – not just managers – when rebooting to renew the sense of what mental health is

  • Preparing: Prepare for the cumulative fatigue that’s likely to hit once we’ve struggled our way through current challenges

With the pandemic only serving to accelerate what was already a growing workplace concern - and research pointing to lack of social support as one of the most significant mental health risk factors - it’s more important than ever that we establish genuine relations with the people around us, pivot quickly to humanize healthcare, and build a solid, 3-legged stool that’s innovative and up-to-date.

Topics: Health and Wellness, For Organizations, Humanizing Healthcare

About the author

Michelle is the content writer for Dialogue. She's also a freelance writer for multiple publications including Narcity Media and Time Out Montreal.