The Plight of Productivity: The Importance of Mental Health In The Workplace

By Michael Cassar – Peer Employment Advisor

“A B C! It’s easy 1 2 3! As simple as, do re mi!”

On February 20th,  1970,  a youthful band known as the “Jackson Five” released the song “A B C”. This would be the launching point of a career for the musician and performer named Michael Jackson. He would go on to make history and change the world through his art and passion for entertainment.

The lyrics from “A B C” not only reflect what strong talent, creativity, and captivating potential The Jackson Five had,  it also became their second number one hit; displacing The Beatles “Let It Be”.

So in the world of competing musical artists and performers, it can be said that it pays to be productive, and then some. Millions and even billions of dollars are to be made. Today’s digitized world is one where human beings can do everything they could do in person through the medium of a technologically sophisticated smartphone or computer screen; fame, productivity, and creativity can have a truly global and international audience!

It is not uncommon to see the YouTube stars of today cash in paychecks that can pay for much more than just rent and a Netflix account. Whether or not such dollars and groundswell will lead to fame and fortune, it is in a lot of ways up to the audience that the individual is trying to connect and establish a relationship with to determine how renowned and globally known that person will become . When you start to think about it, putting your name, your ideas, and your methods of life, work, or perceptions of the world out there can require much effort and time to keep your audience satisfied and engaged.

I have wondered for a long time, what is the main driver or source of such creative and relevant content for others? Whether it be in the social media sphere, the music and entertainment industry, or the workplace environment in general,  I think I can identify it with one word:

PRODUCTIVITY.

Yes, pronounced as [proh-duhk-tiv-i-tee]. From my years of experience as a university student, as a YouTube watcher, as a music fan, and as a consumer, I have personally arrived at the conclusion that if an individual feels and is inspired to be empowered in their workplace environment, they can maximize their potential and utility of knowledge, skills, and abilities!

So when I thought long and  hard about to what to write for this article, I arrived at the realization that a crucial and integral part to any workplace is the mental health awareness programs and services. Now more than ever, especially considering that 1 in 5 of all Canadians suffers from a mental health problem, it is vital that such programs are available for those in their respective workplace environments to continue to provide individuals with the positive and re-encouraging environment to be productive.

I am a commerce student who intends to one day become a Certified Human Resources Leader (CHRL). This designation would allow me a multitude of opportunities to work with people in a capacity that influences how their work environment functions. I was inspired by the fact that it can take one person to be a positive force of change in the lives of others. There are three crucial areas I hope to make a positive societal change within: recruitment, employee retention, and workplace motivation. That is what inspired me to begin blogging and advocating for the importance of mental health in the workplace, no matter what you define that workplace to be.

In my opinion, being a post-secondary student is a full-time job. Managing five courses and doing it well is quite a challenge. Think of the stress at this time in your life like an aggravated queen bee, coming home to a displaced, defunct, and destroyed hive. Doing well on exams, achieving high grades, maintaining relationships, friendships, and securing employment after graduation are all crucial to defining your success after the fastest-paced four years of your life. However, these same four years are crucial stages in the development of your cognitive and behavioural functions that will define who you will become.

While this is alarming, so is the statistic of how many students lack the simple element of sleep. Sleep is crucial to managing stress, staying energized and ready for the day, and being able to regulate the busyness that is life. I was reading the Dairy Farmers of Canada Project Sleep which has some very troubling facts from the Canadian Sleep Review Study of 2016:

  • 59% of all Canadians are not getting enough sleep (That’s over 15 million people)
  • 40% of all Canadians have a sleeping disorder (Insomnia, sleepwalking, sleeping talking, sleep apnea, nightmares, and teeth grinding just to name a few)
  • 1 in 4 people call in sick to work to catch up on their sleep (The average worker in Canada loses about 11 days of productivity each year from if the suffer from insomnia)
  • It is recommended that 30 minutes before you go to bed that you don’t see or watch any screens. They omit light blueish and green colours that can spur your brain to think it is daytime and stay awake.
  • Studies have shown that by getting 150 minutes of physical activity each week can improve sleep quality by 65%.

With each of these facts in mind, think about how other stress factors can either attribute to or increase the frequency of insufficient sleep.  Whether it is the fear of academic failure, debt and financial struggle, managing and maintaining relationships, all of these challenges in life can present adversity that can keep you up at night.

One verbal phrase and or life philosophy that I live by and use to calm me down when I am stressed is: “Prepare for tomorrow, live for the now, and dream for the future”. I find this sentence to help bring clarity and process-oriented decision making into my life that makes identifying what I need to achieve much easier. As a consequence, that makes me feel and be more productive, confident, and energetic about life. When I need to get a good night’s sleep (which I really need to do more often), I prepare for tomorrow, not just in the figurative sense, by doing well in school and getting involved in the community, but in the literal sense as well. Even if it is a simple task that allows for more time in the morning, such as preparing what I will wear to the office, making a lunch and keeping it cool it in the fridge. This allows me to not only stay in bed a little bit longer, but it then takes away the stress of having to get extra early to prepare for the work day. This can also work towards preparing a gym bag for a workout after work. If you fail to plan, plan to fail. I have learned this to be true in school and life. It is also worth knowing and going back to the intuitive truth that you can’t plan for everything; and that is what makes this world, and life, interesting!

That leads me to my next point about ‘living in the now’. No matter what sort of religious background, personal beliefs or viewpoints we might have or share, everything that has happened is in the past, and everything that is coming is what we define to be the future. Among all of this is the present. This moment! The now! The milliseconds that have gone by after reading this paragraph. It is in all of these moments where we have the most influence. The world is full of possibilities and knowing what you want is the first step to making it a reality. This is only limited by one tenuous and ever-changing factor: getting out what you put in. For example, if you have a group project that is due tomorrow, and everyone within your group (including yourself once in a while) decided to procrastinate, then you will not get your desired grade on that project. When it comes to balancing work and school, however, it is lessons like these that can help you improve on things such as your time-management skills. Living a balanced lifestyle does not have to be a perfect one. That is why it is crucial to do as the language of Latin simplifies well: “Carpe Diem” or Seize the Day.

Then we get to what is known, for most, to be a very scary thought: “dreaming for the future”. In a world as competitive, globalized and interconnected as the one today,  knowing what you want to do in the future will determine, not only how productive you will be in the days, weeks, months and years to come, but also how happy and content you will be with your life. Keeping in mind the obvious interest of financial benefits of working for an organization, in my view, those who are the most content, confident, and enthusiastic towards their current job or intended career path have the best opportunity of maximizing their happiness. If there is one important piece of advice I would pass on to any student, it is this: take the time to consider the values and beliefs of the organization you are interested in working for in the future. Should their values match yours, let that be a confirmation or indication of what is best for you going forward.  So as cliche as it may sound, if you truly do what you love, and love what you do, you can spend your entire career never having to ‘work’ a day in your life.

Even though I might not release a song or album  anytime soon that will be at the top of the queue on the radio, or have over a million subscribers on a video game YouTube Channel; I know that I can make it anywhere so long as I live, love and appreciate the work that I do everyday. I am confident that if I ever need any help, clarity, or  just someone to hear me out, I know that the Student Life staff in U5 portables are there for me. Everyone is really friendly, and they can help you find more ways of getting through tough decisions or times of adversity that you may face during the roller coaster ride that is university.

This is Michael Cassar, wishing you all the best! Until next week: good morning, good afternoon, and good evening!

 

 

 

 

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The Media and our Views on Mental Illness

Around exam time, students are obviously stressed. Stress is normal. I actually believe it’s healthy. I know students try to make light of their stress, and it’s probably a good way to take a breath amidst the stress of school. One thing that caught my attention recently though was through a speech one of my fellow classmates did, which was based around how people view mental illness thanks to the media. This got me asking myself, “have I ever romanticized or made light of a mental illness?”

I think the first time I realized how often we brush off signs of mental illness was when I saw a tweet around exam time that displayed the photo of Britney Spears shaving her head, with the caption “exams got me as stressed as Britney”. I will admit, I was guilty of laughing along with this, and maybe even retweeting it. But when I really thought about it, this was one moment where I did not consider how often the media displays mental illnesses as humorous or not as serious issues.

After hearing my classmates speech, I finally began to understand how the media impacts our views of mental illness. Think of the countless celebrities that have entered rehab, and how the media displayed their actions. Not one headline suggested helping these people, and rarely did it suggest mental illness as an impact at all. No wonder we sometimes confuse seeking attention with an internal mental battle. What we see in the media is what we believe, whether or not we think that is true. In our daily lives we come across more advertisements and media displays than ever before, and it shapes how we think.

Not only do I hope people can have an eye opening moment like I did through my classmate’s speech, but I hope people actually critically think about what they see. I know that since having my eyes opened to a new view on the media and how it shapes our views on mental illness, I have reconsidered retweeting any “stressed like Britney” tweets. I hope you do the same.

Weight of the World – When Finances and Mental Health Collide

Recently, I faced a very difficult situation since moving out on my own. After struggling to gain my footing in my new town and home, I managed to get a job waiting tables at a restaurant. It was located closer to school than my home but still within doable distance by buses and trains if needed. However, for reasons I cannot ascertain, I was slowly given less and less hours until I received none for almost five weeks straight. I was terrified – I lived in a two bedroom basement apartment with my common-law partner and my roommate. My partner is unemployed but has a large portion of savings to get him through all of his schooling, while my roommate works a part-time job with regular hours; both received CPP (Canada Pension Plan) from their parents as well, while at this point I was basically borrowing money from both of them and my parents (my mother was also struggling with employment at this point). I felt like a failure, constantly applying for jobs and hearing nothing. I’d leave after class and print off five resumes at a time, taking the bus to the Pickering Town Centre and handing them out in the shops and restaurants in the area, desperate for anything. My mental state deteriorated into a deep bout of depression; I was constantly anxious, my eating would bounce between eating too much and eating next to nothing, all I wanted to do was sleep and cry. I felt I did not deserve the help I was receiving from my loving and understanding family.

It wasn’t until I got the news that I was finally hired at my current job that things started looking up. I received a slight boost when my employer called me to apologized and offer me shifts after rearranging which managers would be making the schedule. I was thrilled, finally I would have a stable income again. But I was let down once more, on Mother’s Day I was let go from the job that had let me down for so long, for literally no good reason other than they did not want me. Thankfully, I still have the job I have now and I feel rewarded. I’m still struggling to regain my footing after nearly three months of unemployment, my credit card racked up some debt and I owe my parents and partner so much thanks for being understanding and supporting me financially and emotionally.

Unfortunately, not everyone has such a great support system in place for when they hit hard times. You can’t always predict when you’ll be laid off, fired, or even having to quit a job. You can’t always know how much savings you may need to keep you afloat and for how long. It’s a scary thought and even scarier revelation. I got lucky, but if someone else were in my situation, would they have been? My mother told me if I lived with anyone else, I wouldn’t have been permitted to stay there, and I worried. What if that were true? How lucky am I really? My roommate and partner understood that it was not my fault I did not have hours. I went into my work and begged to have hours, anything would do. But nothing gave. My mother gave me rent for two months and paid my grocery bills. My partner paid for everything, loaning me cash to get even a coffee after class. As a stubborn person, taking money from those I felt needed it more was a struggle for me. Even though in the back of my head I knew I would be okay, my mother’s independence she instill in me made me feel worse for “mooching”. I applied for welfare, only to be turned down upon the welfare officer taking one look at my partner’s bank statements. We had to apply as a common-law couple and I knew that this would disqualify me. I finally lost my cool in the office, bursting into tears in front of a complete stranger and my loving partner, who grew angrier at my situation and at my employers. Thankfully, this did not strain our relationship, and I’m ever grateful for his even temperament and loving nature.

Now that I finally am getting on my feet again, I want to provide some sort of advice to those who may go through or already are going through what I have. Please, do not feel like a failure. Even if you feel it is your fault, you still have ways of getting yourself out. Always remember to budget and save wherever you can. I did not do this and I regretted it immensely later. Track what you spend, see where you overspend and try to reduce it. Talk to your friends and family, be honest and upfront about the difficulties you feel. Do not do what I often do and burden yourself by holding things in. It may be an act of pride, stubbornness, or severe independence, but how does it benefit you? Talking with someone may potentially provide you with assistance in planning and budgeting as well. Most of all, I want you to remember that this is not forever. You may feel stuck, like you will never have a job again or you will be thrown out of your living situation, but you probably won’t. Don’t give up on applying for jobs – apply online, in-person, both where applicable. Something will come around, it may take time but you will find something. I can’t promise everything will be perfect, but in due time you will be okay. Please do not take drastic action even if you feel it is necessary. There are options available at school and in your community, research them and take advantage of them.

Good luck and much love.

Where do we go from here?

Around the end of March, I was hospitalized for an acute mental health crisis. At that point I had no idea what to do, I felt so lost and so scared, and I thought the hospital was my last option.

Three months prior, I had recently had two of my medications increased, because of my anxiety and depression getting a bit worse. But leading up to march, I felt I was getting worse and worse. Getting out of bed was the hardest part of the day because I didn’t see a point. I was struggling with my classes (although my grades didn’t necessarily reflect that at first), and I was getting nervous over things I was completely fine with before. I was constantly questioning my abilities, my worth as a person, and whether I really deserved everything good I’ve gotten in my life. I felt like I was at rock bottom, even if on the outside I still seemed fine. I’ve never liked drawing attention to myself, and asking for help is incredibly difficult for me, even when I know I need it.

Unfortunately for me, going to the hospital wasn’t the best experience. I cried the whole way there. I cried while I was assessed in triage. I cried in the waiting room. I didn’t know what I was expecting to get out of going. Did I want to stay there? Did I want to leave? Would anyone believe how I was feeling?

I got to see a doctor in a decent amount of time, but because I wasn’t there for a physical ailment, I was sent back out the waiting room to wait for a crisis nurse. I waited for four hours before I saw one. I was taken to pretty much the other side of the hospital, had a small interview, then taken right back and told that the psychiatrist would see me shortly. Apparently “shortly” meant a few more hours.

When I eventually did see the psychiatrist, he rushed through his assessment. Every single question he asked, I ticked off what disorder he was checking for. He got visibly annoyed when I couldn’t or didn’t know how to answer one of his questions. He didn’t really seem to care about why I was there. I was just another number, another cry for help.

I was sent back out the waiting room, and not too long later a nurse came to get me and said they had a bed for me. But it was in the hallway. I was feeling extremely vulnerable, I had been crying for hours at the point. I didn’t want to feel like I was being displayed out in the open for people to see. So I told her I’d much rather leave than be in the hallway like that. Maybe I was expecting too much. Maybe I knew I’d feel worse if people could visibly see how awful I was feeling.

They did find an assessment room for me, and the first thing I did was lay on the stretcher and cry some more. What irks me the most is that no one checked on me in the couple hours i was in that room. I was in a bare, empty room, by myself, having come in amidst a mental health crisis. I couldn’t stay there. I was afraid to leave, but once they said I’d be in that room all night until a bed was available (which one being available the next day was unlikely in itself), I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay. I’d be alone with my thoughts for even longer, I wouldn’t have my medications, I wouldn’t have any contact with my family because my phone was almost dead. The walls already felt like they were closing in on me. I had to leave.

The psychiatrist I saw before was patronizing about my decision to leave. He basically said I was making a big mistake and that I’d get the help I needed if I stayed. But when would I get that help? In the morning? In two days? When a bed was actually available? I needed help at that moment, not when it was more convenient for them.

And I get it, hospital emergency rooms are busy, and they take those with more life threatening emergencies first. But how do you justify having someone wait hours upon hours just to see a psychiatrist when you feel that way? How do you justify never checking in on someone who’s currently in that state of mind? What if it was someone else? What if they were seriously considering harming themselves? What if they had the means to do it right there with them? And ultimately, what if they did, and they found out far too late because no one bothered checking in on them?

In the end I’m not entirely sure what changed. But once I decided to leave, everything seemed more clear to me. It was nearly 7pm at that point, and I arrived at 10am. For the first time that day since waking up, I felt as if I would be fine. I didn’t know when, but I knew I’d be fine. It’s like going to the hospital gave me a completely new mindset on my mental illness. Two months later and I’m still not sure what clicked.

I’m doing better than that point, though still struggling. I’m in the process of weaning off the medication I believed was making me feel worse. It’s incredibly difficult. But I have a lot of support, and ultimately a lot of hope.

I’m not sharing my experience for pity, I’m sharing it for more awareness. And maybe to get answers to some of my own questions from my experience. Is this how mental health crises are always handled in a hospital setting? Are they not taken seriously unless harm is imminent or already happening? Are many psychiatrists like the one I saw there? I just feel like there’s so much that needs to change about this.

Please don’t take my experience as the norm. For all I know, this could actually be completely different than what normally happens. But I don’t know. Maybe some have been in my situation and got the help they needed immediately, and maybe some didn’t. One of my instructors told us that mental health and wellness is one of the biggest growing medical fields. So why isn’t that being reflected upon?

The Power of Mindfulness

What is mindfulness?

As students and young people with busy lives, our minds are always racing. We think about assignments, tests, exams, extracurricular activities, our personal lives, friendships, relationships, work. A large portion of our time is spent stressing about the past or worrying about the future rather than living in the present moment and focusing on what you are doing and how you are feeling. Mindfulness is about experiencing the world in the present moment. It’s the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the ‘here and now’.

There are five core features of mindfulness:

Observing

This aspect of mindfulness involves observing your experience in a way that is direct and sensual (sensing mode) rather than being analytical (thinking mode). Mindfulness aims to shift the focus away from thinking to observing thoughts, feelings, and sensations.

Describing

This feature of mindfulness refers to noticing the fine details of what you are observing and describing it. For example, describing your emotions in a given moment as heavy and tense.

Participating Fully

Another aim of mindfulness is to allow yourself to consider the whole of your experience, without excluding anything. Notice all aspects of what you are doing and do it with your full care and attention.

Being Non-Judgmental

It is important to completely accept your experience in a non-judgmental way. Try to avoid evaluating experiences as good, bad, right, or wrong. Another part of being non-judgmental is to avoid attempting to control your experience.

Focusing

The last core feature of mindfulness is to focus on one thing at a time. It’s natural for distracting thoughts to occur and for your mind to drift from sensing mode into thinking mode. Through mindfulness you are able to acknowledge that your mind is drifting and gently return to observing your experience.

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What are the benefits of mindfulness?

There are many benefits of mindfulness, such as:

-helping you become fully engaged in activities

-helping you build a greater capacity to deal with adverse events

-reducing stress and worrying

-improving sleep

-assisting in the treatment of mental health issues like depression, substance abuse, eating disorders and anxiety disorders

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How can I become more mindful?

There are two main approaches to mindfulness: formal and informal.

Practicing mindfulness in a formal setting is usually done through guided meditation sessions. Mindfulness sessions are usually held in a quiet room, and participants sit or lie on a soft mat. The facilitator will guide the session by instructing you to focus on different things such as your breath or the sensations in different parts of your body.

You can also practice mindfulness informally during regular daily experiences. For example, as you are walking, focus on the sensations of your feet hitting the ground. If you are outside, you can focus on the sound of the wind blowing through the trees or the sound of birds singing.

UOIT Student Mental Health Services is offering mindfulness sessions to all UOIT faculty, staff and students. The sessions will run every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the RBC Lounge (UB 1055) from 3:00pm to 3:30pm between May 17th and June 9th.

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