Defence Team Mental Health Co-champions #GETLOUD
As part of Mental Health Week, our two Defence Team Mental Health Co-champions held true to the theme of the week, #GETLOUD, by talking about their new roles and the importance of openly speaking about mental health in the workplace.
Jody Thomas, Senior Associate Deputy Minister and Mental Health Co-champion
How do you see the role of Mental Health Co-champion (employer level) for the Defence Team?
My role as a mental health champion is to help get the word out. The thing about mental health is that there’s a range of conditions and no one solution or cure; it’s not something that you can put a cast on.
When somebody comes to work with a broken leg or the flu we understand how to deal with that issue. When somebody comes to work and they’re suffering from anxiety or depression; we don’t really know how to deal with that. And that’s why it’s important to get tools into the hands of coworkers and management, in order to start conversations and assist that person on the road to good mental health. I think that conversation is probably the main point of my role as champion.
What are the challenges that you foresee to achieving the first goal of the Federal Public Service Workplace Mental Health Strategy: “changing culture to be respectful to the mental health of all colleagues?”
Changing culture starts with changing understanding, and having discussions, and making sure that everybody understands what we’re trying to achieve, which is a healthy workplace and there’s multiple facets to a healthy workplace. It’s not just that your drinking water’s good or that nobody comes to work with the flu. It’s a continual discussion about who we are as an organization, what we want out of our workplace, and how we help people move forward.
On the more personal side: What do you do to maintain your own mental health?
I think that physical health and mental health are tied together, so, I try to exercise… walking my dog every single day is kind of critical to my mental health. She really likes to listen to me talk about my day; she’s very patient with me. I think it’s about trying to carve out some time for yourself; having some hobbies, it doesn’t matter what it is, it’s gardening in the summer or kayaking on the river. Just a little bit of time where you can decompress, think about the day and let the day go and move forward with the next one.
Jerry Ryan, President of the Federal Government Dockyard Trades and Labour Council (East) and Mental Health Co-Champion
What is your current role in the Defence Team?
I am currently the president of the Federal Government Dockyard Trade & Labour Council East. I am also the union Co-Champion for mental health. I was nominated to be the Co-Champion by the bargaining agents through the Department of National Defence Health & Safety Policy Committee.
How do you see the role of Mental Health Co-champion (employee level) for the Defence Team?
I need to convince our employees that the mental health of their workplaces belongs to them. I believe that training and awareness of each employee’s impact based on their conduct will improve outcomes. Something I was made aware of lately was a study with the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour on domestic abuse. In the study respondents indicated that half of victims had told a co-worker about their situation. Only 20 percent had approached the employer. Our members need to be better equipped to assist those in crisis.
Why is it important to have a psychologically healthy and safe workplace?
I had the opportunity to sit as a union representative on the technical committee formed from an agreement between the Treasury Board and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC). I recognized the importance of implementing the standard for Psychological Health & Safety in the Public Service and in our own department. Employees need to feel supported at work when they face struggles in life. If we support them when they need help they will be there for the employer. There are too many toxic work environments that all parties are struggling to fix. It will take the work of all to fix not just the employers.
What are the challenges that you foresee for achieving the first goal of the Federal Public Service Workplace Mental Health Strategy: “changing culture to be respectful to the mental health of all colleagues?”
I believe the biggest challenge will be in having all stakeholders work together to get better outcomes. Individual metal health diagnosis belong only between the employee and their doctor. What we need are better work accommodations written by medical professionals.
What is your main priority as Mental Health Co-champion?
My first priority would be to explain the need to embrace the standard. We then need to educate and train the workplace health and safety committees so they can set about changing the culture.
On the more personal side: What do you do to maintain your own mental health? Are there any words of wisdom you can offer to members of the Defence Team?
I believe to be healthy you have to look at your physical, emotional and spiritual health. I like to run long distance and am quite active in my community and church.
As a regional worker in Halifax, what can we do in the National Capital Region (NCR) to better reach all of our Defence Team members?
I think the NCR can be most helpful by creating tools that can be made available to all members of the Defence Team, then encouraging all members to take ownership in improving their workplace.
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