How Coast Capital is normalizing workplace attitudes about mental illness

Employers have an integral role to play in managing workplace attitudes around mental illness, a plan sponsor told attendees at the 2018 Mental Health Summit Vancouver on Dec. 11.

According to Lyne Moussa, manager of safety, wellness and disability at Coast Capital Savings, it’s important to remember we’re all humans in relationships with other humans when trying to normalize the conversation about mental health and the strategies employers need to create.

“At Coast Capital, we identified three pillars of health we felt [would have] influence — mental, physical and financial. Of course, the spotlight became very evident on the mental-health pillar. We knew this is an issue we needed to address. And in order to function, be productive, achieve goals, do good, our mental-health pillar needs to remain upright.”

Read: 2017 Group Benefits Providers Report: Insurers playing a role amid rising emphasis on mental health 

The B.C. credit union looks at data that tells the real story about mental illness, said Moussa, noting mental-health issues are the main reason for Coast Capital’s short-term disability leaves and it’s even higher for their long-term disability leaves.

“Prescription drugs for mental-health issues by far exceed all other categories, and we have a very high use of [our employee assistance program], which we’re proud of. We promote it, have posters inside stalls of bathrooms. I recommend you all do it, because it works [as] subliminal messaging.”

As an employer, the organization realized it needed strategies in place to help stabilize the mental-health pillar for its employees, said Moussa, noting the first strategy was to talk about it.

“We have to talk about this, get people in a room to share this reality. We need to normalize this, because far too many people suffer unnecessarily. And yes, there are many who do require medical intervention, but there are many who don’t. They just need a bit of help at a specific time in their life, or maybe there are life events they need help with, resources, support or understanding. And so that became the mission.”

As a result of the data, Coast Capital introduced workshops for its leaders aimed at talking about mental health. “It’s not enough to talk anymore. We need to walk the talk,” said Moussa.

Read: Sounding Board: Workplace mental health requires all hands on deck

The purpose of the workshop is to help managers understand how to approach mental health, “to normalize speaking about mental illness and break the stigma surrounding it,” said Lisa McGee, the company’s retail lending operations department supervisor, who also spoke during the session.

“The workshop highlighted the idea that it takes a village to change the culture of an entire company, which can seem like an impossible mountain to climb. But if we, as people leaders, do our part to chip away again and again, that seemingly impossible mountain will eventually turn into a unique and beautiful statue.”

While changing a workplace culture around mental health may seem like an insurmountable feat, employers should remember that one meaningful conversation has “the power to make a difference,” said McGee.

Read more coverage from the 2018 Mental Health Summit Vancouver