I recently attended a national conference on mental health in the workplace. The first keynote speaker stood up and began his presentation with a question: “If we don’t have mental health at work, what do we have?” He was emphasising how common professional and workplace goals (including productivity, success, achievement and growth) depend on our capacity to foster and maintain our mental health. In other words, we have to be well to work well.
Wellbeing is a complex interaction of the biological, psychological and social aspects of our lives. It is the ability to understand the role that each of these aspects plays in supporting us to reach our full potential. Mental health is the capacity to feel, think and act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face. In UBC’s Wellbeing Strategic Framework, mental health and resilience is a priority area because it recognizes how important effective coping strategies are to our mental health and our abilities to live, learn, work and support one another.
What I have just described is a concept called “mental health literacy”. This type of health literacy goes beyond awareness and understanding, emphasizing the actions we can take to care for our mental health. Specifically, it involves:
- Understanding how to obtain and maintain positive mental health
- Understanding mental disorders and their treatments
- Decreasing stigma related to mental disorders
- Understanding how to seek help effectively
All of these components help us manage our relationships, problem solve effectively, feel positive about our lives and selves, and achieve our goals.
Fast facts to boost your mental health literacy:
Not all stress is bad
Stress is a normal part of the human experience; it allows us to learn, grow and develop. Recognizing when stress has become chronic or harmful can help us minimize the potential negative impacts on our wellbeing . Whether we view stressors as positive or negative can also affect how they impact our lives . The following resources provide additional information about stress, its impacts and ways to manage it.
- How to Make Stress Your Friend (Ted Talk)
- Toxic stress and early human development (Harvard University)
- Advice for managing effects of stress from UBC’s Dr. Eli Puterman
Mental health is not the same as mental illness
Being mentally well is different from having a diagnosed mental illness . People living with mental illness can achieve high levels of mental health. Conversely, just because someone doesn’t have a mental illness does not mean that they are feeling or coping well.
Language is important
Words are powerful, and our choice of words and phrases can inadvertently feed into negative attitudes and behaviour surrounding mental illness. By increasing our literacy and shifting our language to be more accurate and empathetic, we can positively impact those experiencing mental illness.
Asking for or offering help is good for us
Reaching out to others for support or connection is a sign that our body’s stress response is functioning effectively . Helping others buffers the negative impacts of stress and improves our overall resilience . Assess your mental health from time to time and ask for help if you need it. Learn to recognize when someone else may have declining mental health and help them find resources for support. UBC HR provides the following support services for faculty and staff:
- Online mental health assessment tools
- How to help colleagues in distress
- Counselling services through UBC’s Employee and Family Assistance Program (available to all UBC employees and their eligible dependents)
- Clinical mental health services (including extended health provisions)
We all have a role to play in creating safe, supported and educated communities at UBC. This month, I encourage you to increase you mental health literacy through one of the resources mentioned above or by trying something new for your mental health.
All my best,
 Public Health Agency of Canada, 2014
 Kutcher et al., 2016, p.155; Whitley, Smith, & Vaillancourt, 2012; Whitley & Gooderham, 2016
 The Working Mind Training, Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2018
 Abiola Keller et al., “Does the perception that stress affects health matter? The association with health and mortality”, Health Psychology, September 2012
 Corey L. M. Keyes. (2002). The Mental Health Continuum: From Languishing to Flourishing in Life. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43(2), 207-222. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3090197
 Heinrichs, M., Baumgartner, T., Kirschbaum, C., & Ehlert, U. (2003). Social support and oxytocin interact to suppress cortisol and subjective responses to psychosocial stress. Biological Psychiatry, 54(12), 1389-1398. doi:10.1016/S0006-3223(03)00465-7
 Michael J. Poulin et al., “Giving to others and the association between stress and mortality”, American Journal of Public Health, September 2013
Photo credit: UBC Human Resources