Employee Spotlights: Mental Illness Awareness Week 2020

Modern Niagara is not only committed to supporting the wellbeing of our employees through the more traditional dimensions of health and safety, but also by addressing the often-underplayed issue of mental health. As such, Mental Illness Awareness Week 2020 provides the perfect opportunity to highlight some of our dedicated Modern team members, who participated in a Mental Health First Aid course in September of 2019.

The two-day course was attended by a number of Modern employees who were interested in learning more about how to assist someone at various stages of a mental health situation. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is defined by the Mental Health Commission of Canada as the help provided to a person developing a mental health problem, experiencing the worsening of an existing mental health problem, or in a mental health crisis (source). As the name suggests, MHFA can provide helpful treatment for an individual until further medical help arrives.

One of the participants in the two-day course was Tim Moise, a Labour Manager at Modern Niagara Ottawa, who found the content of MHFA to be very important and practical.

“It really opened up your eyes to some of the things to look out for, some of the signs, and how to potentially help people that are suffering from different mental illnesses,” Tim said. “The course gave you a lot of tools that you wouldn’t normally know about in order to identify and support people that might need help.”

Another Modern team member who took part was Colleen Shields, a Project Coordination Supervisor in Ottawa, who spoke about the workplace applicability of the insights she got from MHFA.

“I found it really interesting, it was very relatable to both personal and professional life,” Colleen said. “It reminds you to be more compassionate with people, especially in a leadership position where members of your team may not necessarily want to share with you what they have going on in their lives.”

Tim also mentioned that such courses help contribute to an overall improvement in mental health awareness and support in companies like Modern.

“Modern Niagara is a company that supports its people, and to do so you need to be educated and aware in order to provide that support to best of your abilities,” Tim said. “Doing courses such as MHFA, spreading awareness, and offering support systems are what we need to do to make sure that we have the best environment for our employees.”

This is especially crucial when we consider that mental health in the construction industry is a particularly important problem, but nevertheless continues to be stigmatized. Mental health is recognized as such a prevalent issue in the field of construction that it has even been described by some as a “silent epidemic” (source). Doug Rankin, the Chief Financial Officer at Modern Niagara, spoke to the importance of our growing commitment to mental health awareness as an industry leader.

“The industry we’re in, it’s a relatively high-risk industry for mental health,” Doug said. “We have to acknowledge that mental health is there and we have to address it.”

In addition, mental health has become an even more pressing issue as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to add pressures on people across the country and alter both the professional lives, as well as personal lives, of our employees. Colleen spoke about how her role as a people manager had to adapt to the changes of COVID-19, particularly in continuing to support the wellbeing of her team.

“Putting the health and safety of our people at the forefront is what builds and maintains great teams,” Colleen said. “Thankfully, the opportunity I had to attend the two-day course on MHFA has given me the tools to continue to support our great people.”

Nevertheless, Doug addressed the specific issues around wellbeing with the ongoing pandemic, and how increasing our awareness and de-stigmatization of mental health is of immediate importance.

“Right now, it is important as it has ever been. People are stressed and we’re seeing evidence of that,” Doug mentioned. “We have so many young employees with families, with elderly folks they’re trying to look after, and these are tremendous stressors on our people.”

As a member of the Foundation Board for the Royal Ottawa Hospital, Doug garnered a significant amount of information about the effects of mental health in the general population, but also specifically in the work environment. However, while supporting employee wellbeing has proven benefits for a company, Doug also reminded that this is first and foremost a human issue and that addressing mental health is primarily about helping those around us who may be suffering.

“You can think of all the reasons to focus on this issue, such as the improvements on productivity, work environment, safety, health, but most importantly it’s the right thing to do.”

Similarly, Tim mentioned that a lot of important work done to both address the stigma of mental health and support those around you, comes from simple interactions and moments of teamwork that we are all capable of performing in our day-to-day lives.

“It’s important to check in with everyone you have working with you,” Tim said. “Construction is an industry that has that mask on and a lot of people won’t talk about mental health, so all it takes is for somebody to ask how you’re doing and then all of a sudden those barriers break down and you might open up a conversation, which ultimately might help someone by just talking to them.”