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Member mental health takes spotlight at Canadian conference

The more people we can get trained around mental health, the better.

Jason McInnis, National Director of Health and Safety

Alison Butler discusses mental health at the Canadian Tripartite in St. Andrews-bythe- Sea, New Brunswick.

Canadian Boilermakers are leading the way in encouraging members to care for and protect their mental health in addition to keeping fit and focusing on job safety. During an afternoon session at the 2022 Boilermaker Industry Tripartite Conference in Saint Andrews, New Brunswick, Alison Butler, chief wellness officer and owner of her own consulting company, gave a high-level overview on how to identify depression, anxiety and burnout, and tips for maintaining mental wellness in the workplace.  

“We’re all impacted in some way, shape or form by mental health,” Butler said. “It doesn’t have to be that we’re in crisis, although we might be. Sometimes we’re going through the stuff of life.”

The COVID-19 pandemic changed some of the mental health markers in the workplace with nearly 25% of Canadians currently presenting with depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. 

In one study nearly 9 in 10 employees reported that workplace stress affects their mental health and that they’re experiencing the early signs of burnout, according to Butler. “Nearly 83 percent of respondents felt emotionally drained from their work.” 

Burnout, stress and the way they are experienced are entwined with mental health. The World Health Organization has identified burnout as an issue that can occur in the workplace. Burnout is chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed and may include feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, feeling job cynicism and having reduced professional efficacy.

Depression and burnout can mimic symptoms such as: numbness, anger frustration/irritability, worry, feeling tired, impaired memory/concentration and body aches or not feeling well because “body and mind are so integrally connected,” Butler said.

According to Butler, awareness is important on a personal level, but it’s just as vital to providing support to co-workers. She said there is still stigma around mental health in the workplace. Half of adults are concerned about even discussing it. 

Colleagues can watch out for one another and reach out and help if they see someone struggling. Butler noted signs can include changes in work habits and behavior, increased absence from work and physical symptoms. 

National Director of Health and Safety Jason McInnis and Health and Safety Representative Blair Allen are working with locals to raise awareness that mental health is just as important as physical health and safety. Boilermakers use the Working Mind program from the Mental Health Commission of Canada to raise awareness of mental health issues. Working Mind seeks to reduce the stigma of mental illness. And through evidence-based teaching, help find solution-focused answers for people experiencing mental health challenges in the workplace.

“The uptake of the program and the feedback has been great,” McInnis said.  “None of this would be possible without the support of the lodge leadership. It matters how we talk about mental health.” 

About 600 members have taken the Working Mind program. “It’s been well-received,” McInnis said. “People are opening up.” He said it’s even been delivered to contractors. “The more people we can get trained around mental health, the better.”