Are you up for a discussion about mental health in your workplace? If it’s not a topic you’ve given much thought to in the past, you’re not alone.

But it’s a subject worthy of more attention than it gets. During an economic downturn, when times are tough and stress levels are high, it’s not uncommon for people to feel insecure, depressed or angry. In fact, these feelings can even be healthy emotions. But when they start to take over, this can lead to more serious problems.

Mental health in the workplace

Mental health is a safety issue

On the job, someone with depression, anxiety, or other mental health concerns, can put everyone at risk. Among other things, they might exhibit some of the following:

    • Slower reactions
    • Poor decision-making
    • Lack of attention to detail
    • A feeling of ‘not even caring’ or unusual fatigue.

As we’ve learned in previous posts on this blog, safety in the oil and gas industry is a shared responsibility. It’s a complicated combination of many factors, including organizational safety culture, the behaviours and attitudes of individual workers; process safety policies and practices; and much more. But if one person on a crew doesn’t have his or her head in the game, they could pose a risk to everyone they work with.

Why it’s time to start talking about mental health

Mental health isn’t an easy conversation to start. It’s a very personal subject that speaks to people’s vulnerabilities – and that’s not a place many of us are too keen to go!

One person who is not only willing to speak about it but encourages others to do the same is Gord Menelaws, learning and wellness coordinator at Teck Trail Operations, and former safety chair of the United Steelworkers.

Gord has come through his own struggle with depression and anxiety, and he now volunteers with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) to share his story and to create awareness of the issue.My family suffered a great deal when I went through it,” said Gord. “Always walking on eggshells, not knowing what would trigger Dad into rage or sadness.”

Why ‘sucking it up’ is not the way to deal with stress

Gord learned, through his own experience, that mental health issues often don’t just go away – no matter how hard you might try to ignore them. “The first challenge is admitting that you have a problem and understanding that you’re not alone,” he said. “A good starting point is to see your family doctor. Getting diagnosed and getting a treatment plan early is key to a recovery. I went to the Employee Assistance Program through my work and it really helped me, with five visits to a counsellor.”

If you think an employee or co-worker might be suffering from depression or anxiety

How do you know if someone in your workplace is suffering from a mental health issue? One of the first signs is often a dramatic change in their behaviour. When people withdraw from company or activities that they used to enjoy, that’s an indication that all is not well. “We all have bad days,” said Gord. “But when there are more bad days than good, and it goes on for a while, that’s a sign that something’s wrong.”

But then what? “When I was suffering, some of my co-workers took the time to check in,” said Gord, “and it helped me to know that people cared enough to want to help.”

Healthy minds, healthy workplace

Looking after your employees’ safety and physical well-being is an important part of running a healthy organization. But taking care of their emotional well-being is just as important. It’s important for every workplace to have someone who will monitor vulnerable employees, offering resources and help, and above all letting them know that they’re not alone.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression or anxiety, the CMHA has a number of helpful resources on its website.