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The last weeks of August are often bittersweet – days are still long and warm and we notice there are more “out of office” auto-replies than usual. However, anticipation of post-Labour Day change – ending vacations, back to school, back to business and days getting colder and shorter – can affect our mental state. Even for those relishing getting back to routine and counting down the days to ski season, this time of year is full of change, and change can be overwhelming.

In the workplace, it is important to acknowledge this sensitive time both for ourselves and for our colleagues. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), in any given year, one in five Canadians experiences a mental illness or addiction problem. By the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, one in two has – or has had – a mental illness. Now is a good time to check in on your own and your colleagues’ mental wellness and to pro-actively take care.

Organizations:

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1) Ensure benefits programs sufficiently cover mental health and encourage employees to use them.

As the lines between work and life continue to blur, employers need to think more holistically about their wellness strategy. According to Deloitte’s 2018 Human Capital Trends report, while 63 per cent of employees value employee assistance programs (EAP) and 60 per cent mental-health counselling, only 30 per cent of employers offer EAP and 21 per cent mental-health counselling.

In addition to offering traditional EAP benefits, more and more organizations are offering flexible benefits programs with health spending or wellness accounts, which can be used to cover psychological services, yoga and meditation classes, health coaching and other services. Progressive organizations are also offering credits or bonuses to encourage use of benefits, versus the programs of yesteryear that were virtually impossible to understand or use to their full potential.

Consider partnering with experts who can implement programs to destigmatize and integrate mental health in the workplace. For example, Not Myself Today implements corporate programs such as “mood buttons” so that more employees are encouraged to wear their mood on their sleeve, literally, whether they are feeling anxious, Zen or happy.

2) Incorporate healthy (physical and mental) living into corporate culture.

For example, encourage employees to speak up or take time off when they are not feeling mentally well, just like when they don’t feel physically well. Encourage physical wellness by offering healthy snacks or catering options in the company cafeteria, and encourage team walks or “healthy hours,” which can all have a positive effect on mental health as well.

3) Be mindful when designing workspaces.

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According to a study published by Central Michigan University (CMU) – Why we need more nature at work (May 23, 2016) – greater exposure to natural elements (sunlight being the strongest) has a positive effect on mental health and was positively related to job satisfaction and organizational commitment. So while you’re designing your new workspace of the future, consider desk proximity to windows and other natural elements.

Individuals:

1) Change your environment.

The CMU study indicated that mood spills over onto how someone perceives their job. A poor mood can lead to job dissatisfaction, which becomes a vicious cycle. Intuitively, we know that if we have a bad day at work, we bring our mood with us to our personal lives. But this study suggests the reverse is also true. Feeling low? Go for a walk during daylight hours or sit near a window. Even the presence of a nature-themed screen saver or a potted plant can have a positive effect.

2) Practise mindfulness.

Take time to be in the moment and focus on what matters. Oftentimes we can calm our brains, ease anxiety and refocus just by taking time to breathe, practise yoga or meditation, or write down our thoughts.

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Taking a break from social media can also help – oftentimes when we are feeling low, posts on social media can heighten anxiety – both the seemingly constant flow of bad news and others’ seemingly perfect lives (or careers).

3) Seek professional help.

Whether you have a case of the blues or you’re down in the dumps, talking to a professional, through your employer’s EAP or an outside source that can help through therapy or other means, can save a lot of stress and grief in the long run.

Panelists at the CAMH Difference Makers event on May 23, 2018 discuss the strategies their companies implement to ensure a mentally healthy workplace

Naomi Titleman Colla is founder and principal of Collaborativity Leadership Advisory.

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