As mental health awareness becomes an increasingly prevalent subject in public and at work, people are turning to new platforms to deal with topics such as anxiety, depression and burnout.
Whether it’s a manager who’s open to discussing anxiety, an entrepreneur whose mentor takes note of their stress levels, or even an app that makes access to mental health support easier, the Kanata tech community is full of initiatives aimed at destigmatizing mental health issues in the workplace.
Over the summer, members of the community came together for Working Minds #GetLouder, an afternoon event that included several panel discussions featuring tech leaders talking about mental health, sharing their professional perspectives and personal stories.
The event was organized by the Kanata developers behind the mental health app SnapClarity. It works by starting with a digital mental health checkup that determines risk levels and a treatment plan before linking the user with a therapist who can be reached via text and video calling.
The high-tech approach taken by SnapClarity reflects, in part, the needs of an evolving workforce. CEO Terri Storey hopes that she can move beyond individual users and enter the business-to-business space, with SnapClarity included as part of employee benefit packages.
“We need to take better care of our mental health,” she says. “I don’t think people realize the economic and also the humanistic impacts.”
Support for entrepreneurs
Aside from its potential in traditional workplaces, SnapClarity could also benefit entrepreneurs and other self-employed people.
For Erin Blaskie, who worked as an entrepreneur for 13 years and spoke at the #GetLouder event, mental health was a re-occurring struggle that she couldn’t placate with paid sick days, employee benefits or the support of a manager.
“When you’re self-employed, there’s nothing,” she says. “There’s no one who’s going to pay your bills when you’re off.”
One particularly devastating depressive episode, triggered in part by the heavy workload she had brought upon herself in an effort to continue her successful career trajectory, made Blaskie realize she needed to make some changes.
“Thankfully, I was able to work my way out of it,” she says, but it wasn’t easy. With some support from her family and several understanding clients, she “put one foot in front of the other,” pulling herself from the depths of the episode and managing to finish the work she had set out for herself.
She changed her entire business model once she got through those projects.
“I knew the way I had been going wasn’t sustainable, and I didn’t want to put myself back in the same situation,” she says.
Blaskie focused on clients with long-term potential, narrowing her portfolio from around 70 to roughly a half-dozen. The new plan worked – without the stress of finding new projects, she was able to better manage her own health and her business.
In her current role at L-Spark, she’s in a more traditional workplace, and says the difference in support is noticeable.
“My entire life looks different now,” she says. “I’m much more supported now as an employee than I was as a self-employed person.”
She works closely with many entrepreneurs, and hopes to be able to pass on some of what she’s learned so they don’t go through the same difficulties
Trisha Cooke of You.i TV, who also spoke at #GetLouder, says she’s noticed the conversation about mental health opening up during her career in technology.
“When I first started out, it was not something you discussed,” she says, referring to the anxiety she has often struggled with. Though she talks about her mental health with friends and some colleagues, she says sharing her experience at that event was an important step toward the destigmatization of mental health issues in the workplace.
“Whether you’re a CEO or whether you’re a manager … mental health doesn’t discriminate,” she says.
Cooke highlighted the fact that employees need more than a good benefits package – if their manager is open to talking about mental health, they will be comfortable bringing up any problems they are having.
Amy MacLeod, corporate diversity officer and vice-president of strategic communications at Mitel, says companies and managers should be starting to rethink the health supports they have in place for their employees.
Mental health is increasingly recognized in conjunction with physical health, and she says SnapClarity is just one example of how technology can help address the growing need for mental health support.
She also highlights the 24/7 nature of work, especially in the tech industry, as something that can be detrimental to mental health.
“There really is no disconnect from the workplace,” she says, adding that managers should take note of employees who are overworking themselves, such as responding to emails at 2 a.m.
“Managers, be aware,” she advises. “Opening the conversation on that level is the first step.”
Mental health in the workplace
• 1 in 5 Canadians experience a psychological health problem or illness in any given year.
• Psychological health problems and illnesses are the No. 1 cause of disability in Canada.
• Psychological health problems cost the Canadian economy — $51 billion per year, $20 billion of which results from work-related causes.
• 47% of working Canadians consider their work to be the most stressful part of daily life.
• In any given week, at least 500,000 employed Canadians are unable to work due to menta health problems.
(Source: Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2016)