One of the biggest challenges for anyone facing a mental illness is reaching out for help.
It can be hard to ask for help when you don’t know where to turn – that’s why it’s so important to open up the conversation about mental health in our workplaces, for both those who are struggling with mental illnesses and those who want to offer support.
To aid in this effort, our friends at Bell host Bell Let’s Talk Day on January 25th. We spoke to some new grad employees at Bell who shared 5 simple ways you can reduce stigma in your workplace – even as an intern or entry-level employee!
Words have the power to inspire and support our peers, but they can also do a great bit of damage if we choose the wrong ones. That’s why when it comes to mental health, language matters.
As a Project Manager at Bell, Regina Calcagno takes it upon herself to regularly check in with her team – but not just about their project progress. She makes an effort to chat with her colleagues about everything from their day-to-day lives to their stress levels, just to make sure everyone is feeling okay. “If they trust you and they know that you’re not going to judge them, they will open up, and they will tell you they need help,” she says.
Creating a comfortable environment for conversation is step one – and that starts with open and honest communication. When it comes to mental health especially, the words you use can have a huge impact – so choosing the right ones is essential. Even without intending to, “sometimes you can use certain words that can hurt people or even shut them down, instead of motivating them to open up to us,” says Regina.
Even as a co-op student or entry-level employee, being mindful of your language is a simple thing you can do at work that will help stop the stigma around mental health. If you’re not sure what words are okay to use, Regina recommends putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Chances are, if you wouldn’t want someone saying it to you, you probably shouldn’t say it about or to someone else.
“It’s important to note that Bell Let’s Talk isn’t only about mental illness, it’s about mental health overall,” Regina adds.
Her hope for Bell’s Let’s Talk campaign is for mental health to be an open and casual conversation, like it is in her home country, Argentina. “For us, it’s very natural,” she says. “If you feel sick, you go to a doctor. So when we feel a little bit down or have a problem or struggle in life – which we all do at some point in our lives – we go to a psychologist.”
Regina suggests doing research on mental health in order to best support your peers. “If you don’t really know about a subject, you may be using incorrect words,” she says. The Bell Let’s Talk website is a great place to start!
The more we know about mental illnesses, the more we can react accordingly and provide our colleagues with the help and resources they need to get well. That’s why when it comes to the mental health conversation in the workplace, Simon Beaulieu, Business Solutions Architect at Bell, recommends educating yourself.
“Specifically at Bell, we have mandatory training sessions and there are a lot of resources available through our company portal,” Simon says. “Everyone can benefit from being more informed.”
In addition to Bell’s 24/7 hotline, employees at Bell also have access to LifeSpeak, an online wellness and mental health platform where they can access resources at any time. “It’s important to reduce the stigma publically-facing, but it’s also important to take into account the effect that it has at work,” says Simon. Bell increases awareness in both areas with the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, and leads by example with its detailed support program that helps create an environment that makes all employees feel accepted with access to help when they need it.
• Bell Let’s Talk
• CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association)
If you decide to educate yourself by asking a colleague about their experience, Simon emphasizes the importance of knowing how to approach the situation in a respectful manner.
“A heavy focus on listening is the best approach,” he says. “Simply ask someone if they are okay – ask how you can help.” Always try to have an approach that is non-judgemental, empathetic, and show them that you really mean it.
“If you are in a situation where someone wants to open up and talk, do it backwards,” says Simon. “Listen first, then you can ask some questions.”
A simple act of kindness can make a world of difference, especially in the context of mental health. In your effort to stop the stigma around mental illness in your workplace, remember to always be kind.
“Kindness can remove a lot of the assumption around mental illness,” says Katrina Hartley, Network Provisioning Manager at Bell. “It’s important to be kind with anyone, because in the first place, you don’t know if they have a mental illness.”
If you notice one of your coworkers acting differently, Katrina suggests reaching out and asking if everything is okay. “You can sense mood changes in someone when you work with them everyday,” she says.
Katrina says she can always tell when one of her peers needs to talk. When she reaches out, she says it’s important to not focus too much on work and just have a real conversation with them. Starting a conversation with, “How are things?” opens up the conversation to be about more than work life.
“Relating to them, if you can, always helps,” she says. “It opens that door of vulnerability for someone, and creates a more trusting space for them to share their experience if you share.”
When managing her team, Katrina says the ‘Be Kind’ concept is especially important when it comes to dealing with stressful situations – which often come about when someone makes a mistake. When an issue comes up, she says the first step is to reassure, then problem solve. “There’s no point in someone feeling anxious over a mistake they’ve made,” she says.
When it comes to getting involved in the Bell Let’s Talk conversation, Katrina suggests sharing the message on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. “Social media is the biggest driver of the conversation for Bell Let’s Talk Day,” she says.
“Our generation especially, we’re very vocal because we have so many outlets. We utilize social media to the max – and we just have a very large voice,” she says. “If we have a very large voice, we can create a lot of influence.”
Listen and Ask
It can be hard to open up about how you’re feeling when you’re not sure how your peers will react. That’s why it’s essential to recognize the importance of listening and asking.
“When Bell Let’s Talk Day began [in] 2010, I was going through my own struggles with mental illness,” says Miri Makin, a Communications Manager at Bell. “Seeing my peers and people I admired talking openly about their experiences was a huge first step in opening up about what I was going through.”
One of the hardest parts of dealing with mental illness is struggling with whether or not you want to disclose what you’re feeling, Miri told us. Although someone may really want to talk, they’re not comfortable asking someone if they’re willing to listen.
“Being a person who’s actually looking out for those signs and then asking and listening, you’re kind of giving that person an out by showing them that you’re supportive of them and that you’re more than willing to listen to what they have to say,” she says.
To Miri, a good listener is someone who can engage in a conversation without passing judgement. When people are struggling with mental illness, they’re already dealing with doubt and self-judgement, and the last thing that they need is someone belittling their experience or telling them what to do.
Active listening can take practice – and isn’t necessarily as simple as it sounds. All too often, we’re all guilty of waiting for our turn in a conversation rather than actually listening to what the other person is saying. Miri suggested an active listening technique she learned in a workshop – reiteration. “What I try to do is actually listen to what the person is saying and then almost trying to repeat what they’re saying in your own words so that then you can make sure that you’re on the same page.”
• You’ve seemed kind of distracted lately – is there anything that I can do to help?
• Do you want to talk? Can we grab a coffee?
• I’ve noticed you’ve seemed down lately.
It’s important to let your coworker know that you’re there for them and open to talking without pushing. They may just not be ready to talk yet!
In order to start building relationships with your coworkers, there are small things you can do on a daily basis to start creating open communication in your workplace. “I’ve brought cookies to work a couple of times and offered them to people around the office,” Miri says. “That gives you a chance to actually kind of get to know them and ask them a few questions.”
Talk About It
If there’s one major message we can take away from the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, it’s the importance of talking about it.
It’s hard for someone to reach out if they think their coworkers are going to question or judge them, so make sure your workplace is free of stigma. For students and new grads in the workplace, this means leading by example. “It starts with you,” Andrew Zuk, Implementation Manager of Network Provisioning at Bell says.
In many organizations, new grads are looked at as the next generation of the workplace. As we’ve gone through high school and university, mental health awareness has been at the forefront, and it’s important to share that perspective with our colleagues. “How you act and how you respond to mental health in the workplace – it will change everyone’s perception.”
“It really feels like you’re alone and there’s something wrong with you,” says Andrew, who has dealt with mental health issues of his own in the past. “You’re not physically hurt, you don’t have broken bones, you can’t really put together why you’re feeling that way, but you know that you’re feeling different than you should be.”
Whether you start the conversation with a family member, friend, coworker, or mental health professional, the first step is simply reaching out. “When you’re able to reach out to someone or someone’s looking out for you, you will realize that there’s so many other people out there who are affected by it and experience mental illness – and there’s even more people who are willing to help.”
Informing yourself on the options that are available to people struggling with mental health issues is a good way to prepare yourself for when a coworker or friend comes to talk to you about their experience. “Maybe you have learned how to deal with stress in your life in ways that have worked for you, and it’s great to share that with everyone else,” Andrew adds.
“I’m really proud to work for Bell,” he says. “Raising money [for mental health initiatives] is great – we can definitely contribute being such a big company – but getting that conversation started and removing that stigma I think is worth more than the money.”
• For every text message or long distance phone call from a Bell subscriber, Bell will donate 5 cents towards mental health initiatives
• If you’re not on the Bell network, take the conversation to Twitter or Instagram! Every time you use the #BellLetsTalk hashtag, Bell will donate 5 cents
• Check out the Bell Let’s Talk video on Facebook – Bell is donating 5 cents for every view
• Avid Snapchatter? Use the Bell Let’s Talk filter on your snaps and Bell will donate 5 cents for each one