As the Chair of the Scotiabank Alliance for Mental Health (SAMH), Karen Jordan is helping to deliver the message that mental health issues can impact us all — either directly or through a family member, friend or colleague. She’s also working to reduce the stigma around getting help, and making sure everyone at Scotiabank (and beyond) knows that help is available.
By Shelley White
“Mental health isn’t just one person’s issue, it’s everyone’s issue,” says Karen Jordan.
Karen is not only the Lead of Financial Literacy at Scotiabank, she’s also the Chair of the Scotiabank Alliance for Mental Health (SAMH), one of Scotiabank’s many Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Karen wants to get the message across that mental health issues are something that happens to people. It’s something we all need to be mindful of.
“Mental health is a continuum, it’s on a spectrum, and everybody encounters mental health issues at some point,” says Karen, who’s been involved with SAMH for the past three years.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), mental illness affects all Canadians at some time in their life, whether they experience it themselves or through a family member, friend or colleague. In any given year, one in five people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness. Approximately eight per cent of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives. Anxiety disorders affect five per cent of the household population.
“Whether it’s financial stresses, relationship stresses or work stresses, we all have them,” says Karen. “It’s just, how are we coping? Do we have the tools and the resources and are we able to proactively get ahead of things? For some people, they may not be able to cope with those situations on their own.”
Like other ERGs at Scotiabank, SAMH seeks to unite employees with a common interest or background, and provides them a safe space to share their stories, discuss issues, and ask questions.
“We want to eradicate the stigmas that are associated with mental health by increasing awareness and understanding,” says Karen. “We want to build a community of employees who will advocate and support employees who are either directly or indirectly touched by a mental health issue.”
“Whether it’s financial stresses, relationship stresses or work stresses, we all have them. It’s just, how are we coping? Do we have the tools and the resources and are we able to proactively get ahead of things?”
To achieve those goals, says Karen, SAMH uses their internal website as a hub, posting articles to start conversations and inviting employees to post questions. They also host “Lunch and Learn” webinar sessions where employees can participate by logging on. Through a partnership with Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), they bring in subject matter experts, such as Dr. Colin Hawco, who recently presented on the physiological changes in the brain during mental illness.
Karen says that being involved with SAMH has had a big impact on her life outside of work. “I find I listen to people more closely when they say things like, ‘I’m not feeling great today.’”
When a person recently shared with Karen that she had been experiencing some emotional struggles related to some major stresses in her life, Karen suggested she seek help. “I’m not a clinician, I’m just a person who can listen. But I was able to say to her, ‘I think you should talk to a professional. You need to know it’s okay to do that,’” she says. “That was a big change for me. In the past, I might have tried to smooth it over and make her feel like everything was okay, and this was the first time where I said, ‘It’s been over a month that you have been feeling this way. It’s totally normal that you are feeling overwhelmed, and ok to get some help.’”
In support of World Mental Health Day on October 10, SAMH recently hosted a major event at the Scotiabank Conference Centre in Toronto called “WE CARE; The Mosaic of Mental Health” (WE CARE stands for Workplaces Encouraging Conversation, Awareness, Respect and Engagement). Dr. Bill Howatt, a behavioural scientist and one of Canada’s top experts on mental health in the workplace, presented on resilience and coping skills in difficult situations. The event also featured a panel of Scotiabankers who came forward to talk about their own mental health issues and their journeys.
Employers can play a key role when it comes to supporting their employees’ mental health, says Karen. And it’s good business to do so. “We want people to be working at peak performance,” she says. “If somebody is going through mental health challenges, there can be stigma, embarrassment and shame. Their performance will suffer.”
Employees can be dealing with multiples stressors in their lives, whether it be elder care, child care or other interpersonal challenges, with layers of work stress on top, notes Karen. So it’s important for managers to be aware of how their teams are doing.
“Maybe a team member was a peak performer and now they’re not — they missed due dates and deliverables. If I’m not aware that there’s something going on, I might ignore that and they might get more and more ill. The employee suffers and the business suffers.”
In order to spread the word about the mental health resources available to employees at Scotiabank, Karen says she and a colleague often “pop in” to team meetings. Karen talks about SAMH and the events they have coming up, while her colleague profiles the different services available through the benefits program. “We always say, ‘The more people who are aware of the resources before they’re in a crisis situation, the better,” she says.
While the stigma surrounding mental illness is still a problem in our society, Karen says she would like to think it’s starting to subside. Tragic, high-profile deaths of celebrities like Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade have brought issues of suicide out into the light. And public campaigns have done a lot to end stigma and spark conversation, she notes.
Karen says it’s become more and more common for people to approach her after an event to share their own experiences with loved ones who are struggling with mental illness. And she’s encouraged by the fact that interest in SAMH continues to grow.
“One part of our website asks for volunteers,” she says. “And every time I go into that section, and there’s always a new person putting their hand up.”