Hamilton Health Sciences was one of 26 Canadian organizations that participated in a two-year mental-health pilot project that wrapped up in 2018.
Developed by Mindful Employer Canada and supported by the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s occupational health, safety and prevention innovation program, the project included interactive, peer-led education sessions for the health care organization’s workforce.
“We had approximately 60 leaders and human resources professionals participating in nine different topics with multiple sessions over two years,” says Erika Caspersen, health, safety, and wellness program development specialist at Hamilton Health Sciences.
“After having gone through it, we’ve integrated many of [our learnings] into our existing leader programs,” she added. “We embedded [those findings] in our overall philosophy around what we refer to as the Better at Work approach. We created a leader conversation guide and a staff resource list and other kinds of education for employees.”
According to Caspersen, Hamilton Health Sciences was drawn to the project because it offered an opportunity to increase knowledge and would help leaders better resolve issues related to supporting employees struggling with mental-health concerns.
“But also dealing with issues that might arise, such as conflict, bullying, performance management, communication skills, social support and resilience. One of the things we’re committed to is implementing a comprehensive approach to psychological health and safety, and we want to ensure our leaders are skilled and supported so they can in turn create a supportive environment.”
Participation in the program ties into the organization’s focus on promoting positive mental health among employees and leaders, and its aim to reduce the stigma around mental health. “Your [health care] work environment today is high stress and high trauma,” says Caspersen. “Creating that psychologically safe work environment that promotes positive mental health for health-care workers [is important].”
Apart from the program, Hamilton Health Sciences is also in the process of implementing an education program called The Working Mind, which is developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
“It really sets the foundation for open talk on mental health within our organization and promoting mental health among employees and leaders to reduce negative reactions faced by those dealing with mental-health challenges, so that folks who come forward to discuss the issues will get the support they need,” says Caspersen. “All of our employees and leaders will go through the program.”
Throughout the two-year pilot project, data was collected from the 26 participating organizations and shared with Dr. Joti Samra, a psychologist who developed a research report for the Ministry of Labour. It found 52 per cent of people leaders said they understood the legal requirements of accommodating an employee experiencing a mental-health issue, but after completing the program that number increased to 84 per cent.