Union Matters Podcast: Office of Workplace Mental Health

Tune in to our latest Union Matters podcast – an interview with Patricia Wall – a navigator for the recently created Office of Workplace Mental Health (OWMH), an initiative of the NSGEU and the Public Service Commission (PSC). The Office provides support to NSGEU members who work for the PSC, Tourism Nova Scotia, or Nova Scotia Pension Corporation, all members who belong to the Nova Scotia Public Service LTD plan.


My name is Deedee Slye and I am your host on Union Matters and we have Patricia Wall. What is your official title?


PW I’m a Navigator with the Office of Workplace Mental Health.


DS Right, we’re going to learn so much more about the Office of Workplace Mental Health (OWMH) today. So, thank you for joining us. The OWMH, unfortunately, isn’t available to all of our members. We have 31,000 members, but quite a few work for the Civil Service and NS Tourism and the Pension Corporation.


PW And Nova Corp and Nova Scotia Lands we also support.


DS And I thinks it’s anybody who is a member of the Nova Scotia Public Service LTD, who has membership in that plan, is covered by and can access the services of OWMH. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you can to be with the OWMH, Patricia?


PW Sure. I started my career in government in 2009. I actually started with the Department of Labour and Advanced Education. I was an Education Officer with them. I had graduated with a Masters in Education and I had my own consulting form for a number of years. Ironically, I actually did software. My background was IT. Then I go this position with government with the Department of Labour, and part of my work was supporting the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) division. So, I actually, on my interview, asked what OHS meant, and a month later I was designing an OHS-packed course! I did a lot of training and support for the Occupational Health & Safety Division. It became one of my main functions with OHS. I managed the new officer training program for all new safety inspectors that came in. I revamped the whole training program – what we called the NOTP – for them. That was back in 2009. But I’ve always had a real big interest in HR and what we refer to as soft skills. When a position became open with the Public Service Commission (PSC), with the Organizational Development Team (ODT), I competed and got the position. I was there for probably 4 years. Part of my role was supporting departments with leadership competency and management development competencies. But, just to back-track a little, when I was with OHS I was heavily involved with the JOHS Committee and with the chair person of that committee. There was a real keen interest in the new Psychological Health & Safety (PHS) Standard. I really lobbied and rallied to get PHS to be part of the JOHSC. So when I went to work with the ODT, one of the things we got asked a lot for was resilience training. People were looking for stress management, change management, but it was quite evident that it was resilience that they were looking for. I always said resilience was the new change management, so I designed a resilience course. I was doing some 3-hour workshops while I was at the Dept. of Labour, because it was a request there as well. But when I went with ODT, I developed a one-day resilience course. In additions to doing my masters in Education, I became very interested in positive psychology, so I did training in positive psychology. Was very interested in mindfulness. I’ve been meditating for about five years, and really found that is was really worth while for me. Ironically, while I was developing this resilience program, I was going through a really big life change myself. I was going through separation after 24 years of marriage and there were days I would think “Oh, my goodness! What am I doing?” but it was tools that I learned myself as I was developing this program that really helped me through the process, so that’s why I’m really big on self-care and resilience. So when the position became available in the OWMH, I had a real keen interest in going to work there. So I competed for the position and I got the role of Navigator. I’m responsible for the western region of the province. Helping people is really important to me, and people taking care of themselves and helping people as well, because sometimes I know what it’s like to be overwhelmed and not know where to turn to for help. So the role of the Navigator is really one that’s a supporting and a helping role, where you walk the journey with people to find out what supports and tools are out there for them as they navigate through their own journeys in mental health.


DS If anybody feels like they need to call the OWMH right now or if you’d like to jot down this number its 902-424-CARE (2273) or toll free 1-833-389-CARE (2273). The email is owmh@novascotia.ca. So, if you’re a member of the Nova Scotia Public Service LTD Plan or if you work for the government or some of the government corporations, you might be able to access this service. Can you just tell me in a nutshell how you would describe this service?


PW I can, yeah. It’s also for full-time, part-time, seasonal employees as well, not just full-time.


DS Good point! So all of our parks people who work seasonally…


PW What we do as navigators is we will consult with employees that call our office. Generally what will happen is someone will call or email our office and it comes to our office manage, and she will triage for the navigator for the region. Very minimal information she gets from the person: their name and their location. Sometimes people want to open up about what they’re looking for, but generally it’s just their name and location. As navigators, we have time that’s allotted in our colanders every week for navigation calls. We book out an hour per call. Generally it’s a half-hour for the call and then our notes, but quite honestly the calls take about an hour. Sometimes people don’t want to meet face-to-face. Generally the initial consult is on the phone, but we do have people that will come into the office. Because I region is the western region, if somebody wants to meet face-to-face I’ll make arrangements and I’ll go and meet them. I like to meet them where they’re at. It doesn’t have to be in their office — I’ve met people at the Bridgewater Lifestyle Centre — for example. Any way that we can remove a barrier to them coming forward and opening up and being comfortable, we’ll do that. Sometimes with people when they present, it may be a problem they’re having at work, for example. Through discussions you find out there’s some stuff going on at home, and if they dealt with that, the work stuff would take care of itself. Maybe they believe that the manager is coming down on them, maybe they’re not being as productive as they once were, when you peel back those layers, the underlying problem here, isn’t really the manager. It is that they’re not performing as well, perhaps, and because there are things that are going on at home, Then they almost feel relief that they brought that forward to you. Then you can really help. Some people want online resources. Sometimes people don’t know what their benefits are through our Employee Family Assistance Program (EFAP). They don’t know that Blue Cross is different than the EFAP. Not aware that they get the $1000/year psychological services through Blue Cross, not just for them, but for anybody that’s on their plan. So we help them with that. Sometimes people want a support group within their community, or they want recommendations for a book or some online tools they could use. We work with them to see what works best for them. We always offer follow up and probably 95% of people will take follow up. The reason we do that, it’s kind of an accountability piece as well. Somebody could say, “Yeah, I’ll call Morneau Shepell, I’ll call the EFAP.” and then life happens and they don’t. But, if they know they’re going to have a follow up with a navigator in two weeks, they’ll do it. It’s a bit of an accountability piece for them, which people really do appreciate. We don’t have a limit on the number of times somebody can call us. I have one client I’ve been working with since November on a self-care plan. We try somethings, and sometimes we try something and you say, “Yeah, that didn’t work for me.” So you try something else. We walk with them right through that journey, until they say, “I’m good now.” At that point we can close the file and they know that they can come back at any point and we’ll support them again.


DS That’s incredible! That’s really personal care.


PW It really is. We see a whole range of topics from people having trouble with a child or teenager or someone who might have some problems with addictions or problems with their co-workers. We never know, when we talk to the person, what the concerns may be. It can be a little challenging sometimes because you’re not sure what the topic is going to be and what type of support you’re going to have. Of course, you want to help them right there and then, but sometimes we need to do some research. Like if they’re looking for something within their community or whatever, then we have to do a little bit of research so we can go out and make sure we’re getting the best support for them. Sometimes people don’t know the difference: “Why would I go to a psychologist and not a psychiatrist?” or “What does cognitive-based therapy mean and what can I expect in a session?” so we’re able to help with those types of questions. We don’t provide therapy. Often we get asked what the difference is between calling us and calling EFAP. We don’t provide counselling and therapy services. We do more coaching. We’ll coach people along. We probably butt up against the therapists sometimes, because all three navigators have a background in mental health, but we’re not therapists, so we navigate them down that road. Sometimes people say “I don’t want to take medication. I don’t want to see a doctor.” There’s a stigma attached to it. We talk about what that mean. If I went to a doctor and was told I had diabetes and had to take insulin, I would take insulin. The same holds true if there is a mental health concern. If I need medication I should probably take the medication because it gives me better quality of life. Sometimes people don’t think of it in those terms. They’ve heard stories of others that have had medication and things that have happened. That’s part of removing the stigma as well. It’s their understanding of what medication can do for them or what self care can do for them. We also don’t want people to wait until they’re in a crisis to call us. We want to be proactive as well. On our web page, on My HR, we have a self care plan. As navigators, we actually will help people develop a self care plan so that they will know “what works for me, how will I recognize the triggers when I’m getting stressed and what’s worked for me in the past and who can I call, who should I call, who shouldn’t I call,” and identifying other physical needs, emotional and spiritual needs and what works for them to be the whole person, so they can bring their whole person to work and to home as well. We do have a number of clients that actually are very proactive and want to work on self care as well.


DS That’s fabulous. I’m sure, as you’re going along developing this coaching relationship with this person, there’s a lot of information shared. Can you tell me a bit about how the confidentiality works and what people might expect?


PW It is a strictly confidential service. When I have a meeting with a client, I keep minimum information. We have to keep notes because we need to know what kind of resources that we provided to them, but we do not share the information with anyone. We don’t share the information with HR, with managers, with Morneau Shepell. It’s strictly between the navigator and the employee. The only time that we would be required to break confidentiality is under the legal limits of the law. If somebody was in imminent danger of hurting themselves or someone else. We’re not a crises line, but that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t get someone calling us in a crisis. It’s not happened. But if it did happen, somebody having suicidal thoughts is not imminent danger right now. They’re not saying I’m going to do this right now. We would use the Asist Method with them, which is the suicide intervention training, which is a proven model. We’d work on them having a safe plan for now to keep them safe and make sure they got the help that they needed. If somebody was in imminent danger, we have to protect them. At that point we would have to reach out to 911. But we do tell people it isn’t a crisis line. We don’t work over weekends. If somebody is in a crisis, they should reach out to the Mental Health Crisis Line or to 911 in an emergency.


DS How busy are you? The amount of attention that you’re giving each person sounds incredible. I wonder how that’s possible given there’s only so many hours a day. Are you able to handle the demand? How is the demand for the service going so far? When did the office open?


PW We opened in October of 2018.


DS So it’s only been 9months months. Do you see getting overwhelmed yourself? How’s work?


PW It’s busy, very busy. It’s busier in the central region because demographically we have more people in central than we do in the outlying areas. It’s quite busy in all regions. We’re very good to be able to support each other as navigators. For example, our navigator in Halifax, Colleen, if she’s really overwhelmed with a lot of calls and I don’t have as many in western or Michelle in north-east doesn’t, then we will take some of these calls and do some of the consults. As awareness of our office is growing, then the demand is getting higher. We’re a very cohesive team, so we’re very good to take care of each other. And to recognize if you have a particularly challenging situation, we know we need to take care of ourselves, too. We’ll take a walk, and we have a quiet room in our location downtown at the old World Trade and Convention Centre, 1800 Argyle St. Anybody is welcome to come in. If I have a challenging call or I feel like it’s strained me a little, I will go and mediate. That’s my thing. Colleen will go for a walk, and so would Michelle. We also are lucky in that we have a therapy dog that come in two days a week, Nova. She’s great when you’re having a bit of a challenging day. It’s great to have her there to be a little bit of a distraction. Our director, Carolyn Campbell, is very good at checking in with us. We do weekly check-ins with Carolyn. Everybody does. We have 8 staff members. She makes time every week to do a check-in just to see how things are going with us and if we need anything, is there any support we need. We do team meetings once a week and we all do a round table and a check-in of how we’re feeling and what’s going on. It’s a really good way for us to keep our eyes on each other. Carolyn is arranging that the navigators talk to a psychologist at least once a year. That will be coming up shortly. Just to make sure we’re taking care of our own mental health.


DS The NSGEU is particularly proud to be part of this initiative. Jason, since he became President, has made a personal commitment to make sure this is a successful partnership and would like to see it happen for all of our members and see if this project could be duplicated in other areas. Could you tell me a little bit about how it [OWMH] came to be?


PW In 2014 the province adopted the National Standard on Psychological Health and Safety. We were the first province in the country to do so. We’re pretty proud of that! Out of that the office was a result.


DS The NSGEU, as the workplace, adopted the Standard as well.


PW Yes! So, we do have a Short Term Illness (STI) program and we do get an Employment Insurance (EI) rebate from Service Canada, because we have STI (we don’t go off on EI if we go off on sick leave). As a result we get money back that we don’t use for EI for STI. That money has been funneled into our Long Term Disability (LTD) trust fund. The rebate for that must go for employee benefits. The NSGEU President, Jason MacLean, and the Commissioner Laura Lee Langley, are both co-sponsors of the LTD trust fund. They signed a memorandum of agreement with CUPE Local 1867 that allows the rebate to support mental health and wellness in government workplaces. We came together as a team a year ago this week — July 2, 2018 — all the team members were in place. When we came together we collaborated with stakeholders like NSGEU, CUPE, HR PSC, Attendance Management, OH&S, Morneau-Shepell. We brought together a lot of stakeholders to see where we could collaborate, where we could work, where the gaps were and what we had to focus in on. Then we did a five-day sprint where we really dug deep into to what would our priorities be, what phase 1 and 2 would look like. We are a three-year pilot project. We are almost 1 year in. We’re quite proud of some of the stuff we have done so far in the nine-months we’ve been open. We’re hoping that after the three-years we will continue on. We are the first province in the country to have a dedicated OWMH. It’s important for people to know this is something NSGEU, CUPE, and the other partners have really identified they want to take care of people’s mental health and well-being. This isn’t tied to the government of the day. It’s people that want to look at having a workplace that is mentally fit. Certainly the government supports it. Our minister heavily supports it. But it’s not something with from a political agenda and it’s important for people to know that as well.


DS I agree. We have something here that’s going through a bit of a re-vamp called the Bully-Free Workplaces Program. That started being developed around 2008.


PW I was actually a facilitator in that program. I did that a number of years ago.


DS This whole initiative of workplace mental health has been a priority of our union for a long time. Because we’re in touch with our members and they’re telling us psychological wellness is a huge thing, whether it’s mental illness with families, home, there’s nobody you can point to that doesn’t have somebody that doesn’t have some mental illness or another. It’s really invisible, but present. Do you have any stats on how you’re doing so far?


PW We do quarterly accountability reports to the board. We have a dedicated research and evaluation specialist. We go out and give presentations and talks we collect surveys. Once a file gets closed, we ask them if they would participate in a short survey. It’s completely anonymous. We don’t share their personal information, but we look at how may calls we have. Some stat are: as of the end of April (open 7 months) we have made close to 90 presentations in 21 departments. We go out and do awareness sessions. We went to Transportation & Infrastructure Renewal (TIR) Winter Works meetings. We have more than 5,000 views of mental health content of My HR. We’ve hosted 5 province-wide mental health talks, at the NS Art Gallery we had Sharon Salsburg, a world renowned leader in mindfulness and meditation, who has written a number of books. Her latest is Happiness at Work. We streamed that session live to all government offices across the province. It was recorded (all of our talks are recorded) and up on My HR. We had Bruno, who talks about his struggle with PTSD. We had Tyler Simmons, a young black male from the Preston area, who talked about his struggles with mental health and illness. We had John Carson, called the Mindful Cop. During the Mental Health Awareness Week he broadcast out of the Correctional Facility in Burnside. He did another session at the NS Art Gallery that was live-streamed across the province. I did a talk on building personal resilience at the NSCC Waterfront Theatre, also live-streamed. All those are up on My HR. We collected some really good feedback on those talks and looking at what people want as well in the future. We know that we had through those talks we had over 1100 people that attended in person or online. There is a lot of appetite for this. We have reached over 3000 employees through presentations and webinars. We collected over 2500 feedback surveys from presentations alone. 73% of the people who’ve used the service agreed to complete a survey. of that, 95% said they would recommend the navigation service. 95% said the service increased awareness of available mental health resources and supports. 42% said the navigation service had an impact on their ability to stay at work. Some of these people were not going to go off work, but those that were headed that way said the navigator had an impact on their staying. 35% of our callers are managers, 65% are employees.


DS That’s a higher percentage of managers than I expected.


PW It is a surprising number and people seem surprised by it, but when we think about managers, some of the calls are managers looking to learn how they can support their employees. And of course, managers are employees as well. They can get the stress from the top and the bottom. We’ll help managers and coach them on how to have conversations with their employees about mental health concerns. It’s not a comfortable area for some people. Some managers don’t know what they can and cannot say. It was loud and clear when we started: managers said “We need something.” We created a managers flip book. The framework comes from The Working Mind. We do Working Mind training out of our office as well, which is through the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Mental health is looked at of the spectrum (blue-green-orange-red). When someone is in a healthy stage, how can you keep them there? It’s tips and tools for managers and it moves right along the spectrum. If you know there are changes in behaviour and attitude with employees and you think they may be in the orange zone, there are tips and support available. It’s being rolled-out to all managers across government. We are looking at a similar product for employees as well.


DS Excellent! And this is not just for you, it’s for your family. If you have a son or daughter you’re experiencing challenges with, you can help with some of those questions, so not only workplace.


PW Exactly, if you’re having any struggles. We don’t directly support family members — they can’t call us themselves, not like they can all our EFAP. But in an indirect way, we know if you have problems at home it effects your ability to be able to perform at your optimal level at work. So, we do help in an indirect way. It’s through self-referral only. If a manger calls us and asks us to reach out to an employee, we won’t. It’s confidential! People don’t have to be concerned that their manager is going to call and we’ll share information with managers or HR.


DS But, let’s say I notice that my co-worker is struggling. I could call and ask how I can help my co-worker.


PW Absolutely. One of the best ways to help is to encourage them to contact us. We have business cards and magnets we’ve been distributing in all offices. It’s good to keep those on hand to help people and to recommend they give us a call.


DS Thank you so much, Patricia, for coming out and giving us all this information.


PW Thank you for the opportunity to come in and talk about our office. If you’re curious and want to know what’s the difference between us and Morneau Shepell, why should you call us and not them? If you need counselling or financial or legal services, you can call and they’ll put you through to the right people. But if you don’t know what you want and you need help figuring it out, call us and we’ll help you figure it out.


DS That’s fabulous! Thanks for being with us and thanks to all of you listeners of Union Matters, our podcast from NSGEU. This is Deedee, your host, signing off and have a great day!

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