By Miranda Massie on June 4, 2019
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
By Melissa Lafrance on March 2, 2017
We’ve all read the articles or heard from a friend about the transformational powers of choosing certain foods over others. With all the hype, it can be hard to determine what’s true and what’s not.
This article, written in honour of Nutrition Month, takes a critical look at seven popular myths. Read on for the real facts on everything from whether you should avoid fats entirely to whether white sugar really is worse than alternative sweeteners.
Disclaimer – The information in this feature is meant to encourage you to think critically about the information we are bombarded with. It is not meant to cause worry or make you revamp your diet. At the end of the day, we all need to make the food choices that make the most sense to us at the time.
Food for thought: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. – Michael Pollan
Myth 1: Avoid all fats for overall health.
Fat, often villainized, is a necessary macronutrient that each of us needs to consume. It’s true that not all fats are equal and that some are important for overall health while others should be limited.
There are four different types of fats: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and trans fats.
Unsaturated fats (both monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) are liquid at room temperature and are considered “healthy” fats because they improve blood cholesterol levels, offer cardiovascular health benefits and play other positive roles. They are mainly found in foods from plants, such as vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. Foods with high concentrations of monounsaturated fats include olive, peanut, and canola oils; avocados; nuts like almonds, hazelnuts and pecans; and seeds (such as pumpkin and sesame). Foods with high concentrations of polyunsaturated fats include sunflower, corn, soybean, canola and flaxseed oils; walnuts; flax seeds; and fish.
Saturated fat is mainly found in foods from animals (such as fatty cuts of meat and poultry) and full-fat dairy products. However, a few plant foods are also high in saturated fats, such as coconut, coconut oil, palm oil and palm kernel oil.
Trans fats are made from liquid oil that is transformed into a solid fat, adding texture and flavour to food. They are found in commercially baked goods, fried foods and processed foods. Some meats, milk and butter naturally contain small amounts of trans fat.
To lower your risk of heart disease, it is best to limit saturated fats and aim to have no manufactured trans fats in your diet.
Myth 2: It’s impossible to make sense of the nutrition facts table on packaged foods.
Actually, it is possible to make an informed decision on the foods you should limit, based on the nutrition facts table included on all packaged foot. Don’t let the nutrition claims on the front of packages sway your decision: head to the back of the package and get the facts.
Start by finding out the serving size right under the header “Nutrition Facts”. For a quick check, use the % Daily Value on the right side to determine if there is a little or a lot of a particular nutrient. If it says “5% Daily Value” or less, that’s considered a little, and 15% or higher is a lot.
You may want to look for low amounts of nutrients like saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and sugar. You may want a lot of fibre, vitamin A, calcium and iron. To take it one step further, look at the weight of each nutrient and make an informed decision based on your preference, nutritional status and health goals.
Myth 3: You need to stick to the perimeter of the grocery store to get healthy foods and avoid the not-so-healthy options in the middle aisles.
While each grocery store is designed differently, in general, most of the fresh items that are minimally processed (like produce and meat) are placed on the perimeter of the store. But you’ll also find many highly processed and less nutritional foods, such as those in the bakery and deli meat sections.
Don’t ignore the inner aisles, as that’s where you’ll often find dried items (nuts, seeds, legumes), grains (rice, barley, farro, quinoa), oils, vinegars, and frozen fruits and vegetables. Avoiding these sections may limit your purchase of healthy items.
Did you ever notice that the common food staples like produce, meat, dairy and bread are at completely opposite ends of the store? Store designers do this on purpose to make us spend more time in the grocery store and perhaps add a few more unplanned items to our shopping baskets. Developing a meal plan ahead of time and preparing a grocery list can help you limit your purchases to what you actually need.
Myth 4: Alternative or other forms of sugar are better for you than refined white sugar.
Nutritionally speaking, all sugars are pretty much the same. While some people consider brown sugar, honey or agave syrup to be more natural, they are still sugars. All are concentrated sources of calories with very few other nutrients. Your body can’t tell the difference between white sugar and any other type of sugar.
In fact, your body handles naturally occurring sugar in food or processed sugars and syrups in the same way. If you are looking for the least-processed options, then yes, stick to small amounts of honey and maple syrup.
Myth 5: Organic foods are better than non-organic foods.
Bottom line: there is not enough scientific evidence to conclude that organic food is more nutritious than non-organic food. Regardless of being organic or non-organic, foods usually have a similar amount of nutrients. Some studies have found slight differences in nutrient content, although the results have not been significant. The factors that do affect the nutritional content of food are soil quality, growing conditions, harvesting methods and timing, and the species of the animal and what it ate.
The real difference between organic and non-organic foods is in the farming practices. Organic foods are grown under strict regulations and requirements laid out by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Organic foods must be produced without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics and genetically modified organisms. Organic farmers also use crop rotation, plant compost and composted manure to enrich the soil. Animals raised organically are fed only organic feed that is free of antibiotics, growth hormones and insecticides.
In Canada, both organic and non-organic foods follow strict guidelines and are safe to eat. As with any purchase, it’s a personal choice and often comes down to financial realities.
Myth 6: Sea salt is better than table salt.
Sea salt, just like kosher and gourmet salt, has about the same amount of sodium as table salt. One is not necessarily healthier than the other, and too much sodium can be harmful to your health. The differences between sea salt and table salt are taste, texture and processing.
Table salt is mined from dried-up ancient salt lakes. Some table salts include iodine, a nutrient that helps prevent thyroid disease. Sea salt is made by evaporating seawater and usually involves less processing. Depending on the water source and the trace minerals, different sea salts can have varying flavours and colours.
Myth 7: A raw food diet provides enzymes that are essential to healthy digestion.
The major claim made to promote the raw food diet is that heating food destroys its nutrients and natural enzymes and that enzymes are needed to boost digestion and fight chronic disease.
It is true that cooking inactivates plant enzymes since they are proteins and proteins denature with heat. However, the acids in our stomachs denature those proteins, even when eaten raw. A completely raw food diet is often difficult to follow and can lead to inadequate intake of many essential nutrients, such as protein, iron, calcium and vitamin B12.
Uncooked and unpasteurized foods have been linked to foodborne illness and when foods are cooked, this risk is significantly decreased. Cooking also allows for the transformation of foods and is often needed to allow for proper digestion and nutrient absorption.
If you have questions or concerns about your diet, consider getting nutritional support – see the March 2017 article in the Healthy UBC Newsletter for information on using UBC’s Extended Health Benefits and EFAP services.
By Melissa Lafrance on May 3, 2016
In conjunction with this year’s Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Week (May 2-8), UBC’s EFAP provider, Shepell, has released a new online resource at www.workhealthlife.com.
This Mental Health and Gender microsite features articles that talk about myths and facts about mental health and gender, reducing stigma around mental health issues, and tips on how to build resilience.
- Mental Health Myths and Facts
- Men and Women: How to Recognize Mental Health Risk
- The Everyday Life of Stigma
- Bouncing Back: How to Improve Your Resilience
Want to learn more?
Contact Shepell Counselling Services
Do you need to speak with a counsellor, or otherwise access UBC’s EFAP services?
You can trust Shepell to help you and your family to resolve issues you may be facing whether it be stress or anxiety-related, relationships problems, parenting, financial guidance, nutrition and weight loss, and much more.
To contact Shepell:
- Call the Care Access Centre at 1-800-387-4765
- Visit the Shepell website
- View their available services including online programs
Read our counselling services page to learn what to expect when you contact Shepell.
Posted in Benefits Spotlight, EFAP, Mental Health | Tagged articles, EFAP, Employee and Family Assistance program, facts, gender, mental health, Mental Health Week, myths, Shepell, Support | Leave a response
By Melissa Lafrance on March 1, 2016
Spring is in the air! This time of year brings warmer weather, longer days, and perhaps less cloudiness and rain and more delightful sunshine. Spring is the season of new beginnings, fresh buds blooms and the earth seems to come to life again. There’s also a common activity that many take part in – spring cleaning. March is also Nutrition Month (aka my favourite initiative), given my passion for nutrition and health. And on that note, let’s take the opportunity to debunk eight nutrition myths and learn the real facts!
Disclaimer – The information is this feature is meant to make you think about being critical about the information we are bombarded with in the media. It is not meant to cause worry or make you revamp your diet. At the end of the day, we all need to make the choices that makes most sense to us at the time. If you have concerns about your diet, consider consulting a dietitian – see the December, 2014, article in Benefits FYI for information on using your UBC Extended Health Benefits for dietitian services.
Avoid carbs if you want to lose weight.
Restricting carbohydrates (carbs) typically involves lowering or eliminating carbohydrate-containing foods like grain products, some fruits, starchy vegetables, some dairy products, as well as high sugar-containing foods. While this can help one lose weight in the short-term due to a lower caloric intake, restrictive diets are not sustainable on a long-term basis. Our bodies need carbohydrates for energy and optimal brain function. Regardless of the diet approach, long-term lifestyle changes in eating habits and physical activity are required to prevent weight loss and maintenance. Complex carbohydrates are an excellent source of vitamins and minerals and fibre.
- Learn more about low carbohydrate diets.
- Learn more about smart choices to include carbohydrates in your diet.
Late-night snacking causes weight gain.
Healthy snacking is a smart way to help ensure adequate nutrient intake for energy and wellbeing. Snacking in between meals can help keep blood glucose levels stable throughout the day. Remember to snack wisely, measure portion sizes, and listen to hunger cues. Visit Healthy Snacks for Adults for great ideas and snack foods to bring to work that will keep you satisfied in between meals or after a workout. It’s more about the type and the amount of food you consume and less about the timing.
You need to take vitamin and mineral supplements to be healthy.
Food first! Most healthy individuals can meet their vitamin and mineral needs with a well-balanced diet. There are certain population groups that require some extra nutrients in the form of supplements including, but not limited to, older individuals, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and those with restricted diets.
Everyone should eat a gluten-free diet.
A gluten-free diet is a necessity for individuals with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is ingested, or with non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Gluten is a protein found most commonly in wheat, barley and rye. Unless you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, you don’t need to avoid gluten. Whole grains, among other high-fibre foods, are a healthy choice and offer dietary fibre needed for proper digestion. A gluten-free diet, when not planned properly, can lack vitamins, minerals and fibre. Consult a doctor if you think you may have a gluten allergy or sensitivity.
Superfoods will keep you super healthy.
Goji berries, kale, chia seeds, and quinoa: the list of “superfoods” grows every year. Just as there is no super pill to make you healthy, there isn’t one food that can make you lose weight or cure cancer. Superfoods are simply trends. There is no clear definition of what constitutes a superfood. While these foods can be beneficial to have in our diets due to their nutrient density, so are apples and carrots. Superfoods are often portrayed in the media that one only has to consume them to achieve health and wellbeing. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and you want to keep moderation and variety in mind to achieve health benefits.
Home cooking takes too much time.
Home cooking doesn’t take as much time as you might think! I urge you to get in the kitchen and be involved in the preparation of the foods that nourish you. It does not have to be complicated. It really doesn’t take that much time to grill a piece of fresh salmon and arrange a tossed vegetable salad with oil and vinegar. If you are not experienced in the kitchen, start with simple straightforward meals. Great local and fresh ingredients don’t need much tampering to construct a delicious and nutritious meal. Planning meals in advance let you use your time wisely and make extra for lunches the next day.
- Check out these 5 best time-saving cooking tips.
- If you need inspiration to get in the kitchen, please watch Michael Pollan’s Cooked Series (now on Netflix) based on his book Cooked.
- Need healthy recipes? Try Cookspiration.
Only people with hypertension need to limit their sodium intake.
Sodium is a mineral found in salt and is needed to control blood pressure and to help with muscle and nerve function. The recommended daily intake of sodium is less than 1,500 milligrams, or 2/3 teaspoon of table salt. Most Canadians consume double the amount of sodium needed largely due to the fact that the sodium we consume is hidden in prepared foods. Excess sodium can increase the risk of hypertension and the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Find out the sodium content of common foods.
- For information on lowering your sodium intake, check out the DASH Diet.
A detox diet is needed to clear the toxins from your body.
There’s been a recent obsession with “detox” diets, as if our bodies aren’t equipped to rid of “toxins”. Toxicity is the degree to which a substance can damage an organism. An abundance of numerous substances can eventually cause toxicity, which is why moderation is so important. There are substances that can cause acute or chronic toxicity in high amounts and it’s best to avoid these. Detox diets make big promises but don’t deliver the science to back up their claims. It is true that a couple of days free from processed foods and high in fibrous foods such as vegetables and fruits will do a digestive system some good and will in turn make you feel better. Our bodies are quite spectacular and our liver, kidneys, intestines, and lungs eliminate unwanted waste. Our insides are not dirty and don’t need to be cleansed with juices, pills or potions. Some detox diets include intestine-clearing supplements that might actually be harmful (try prune juice instead!). The gut microbiota play a crucial role in our health, immune function and digestion.
There are no “bad” or “good” foods. What is beneficial for one person, may cause another person extreme discomfort, indigestion, and even allergic reaction. We are all unique and have differing nutrient requirements. Be critical of what you hear and read as it is difficult to sift through the overwhelming amount of health information and unsupported claims.
Keep in mind that stressing about 10 calories or beating yourself up for eating the occasional treat can be more harmful than the actual food you eat. If you want advice, consult a credible and trusted health professional and seek assistance through our many benefits at UBC such as EFAP and Extended Health Benefit coverage. Do what makes most sense to you at the time and take advice from trusted sources.
By Miranda Massie on April 8, 2015
My partner and I recently met with a financial advisor. We are currently in the midst of planning for our future, feeling caught between student loan debt and an uncertain job market, while looking ahead to home ownership and starting a family.
In a city like Vancouver, the financial prognosis is grim and we have often put off facing our finances due to the stress and overwhelmingly gloomy outlook that comes with it. We have met with advisors at our banks in the past, but often left feeling as though we had sat through a sales pitch instead of a counselling session. Denial was our financial strategy of choice, but that can only work for so long.
In last month’s editorial, I wrote about embarking on an emotional cleanse and getting rid of the negative impact that bottling up emotions can have on our health. I think that this same idea applies to finances. We (as a society) tend to not talk about money. We have been socialized to keep financial matters to ourselves, as well as dealing with the myriad of emotions that come along with them. Keeping all of this stress and uncertainty to ourselves can take a toll on our mental health, relationships and overall wellbeing.
What I discovered is that it feels great to talk about money out loud, especially with someone who knows their stuff. Our discussions with the financial advisor were calm, frank and filled with humour and even prompted discussions with friends on the subject. The advice was invaluable, as well-sensitive and honest.
This month, I invite you to talk about money. Say the words out loud, either to yourself, a loved one or a financial professional. Letting someone else in, especially on this topic, can alleviate some of the inevitable financial crunch that we feel we are under.
5 fun facts I learned from financial planning
It’s ok to dream and to say what you want out loud. Do not apologise for lofty goals. You will only have a chance to achieve them if you are realistic in planning for them.
You find out where you are. Knowing where you stand, whether positive or negative will always set you up in a better position for success than not knowing at all.
Financial advisors are not all sales people. I used to fear going into see a financial advisor because I always felt like I was being pushed towards something I didn’t really need. Find someone you trust and stick with them.
It feels great to have a plan. The benefit of seeing professional advice is that you no longer have to guess at whether you are doing the right thing or making the right financial move. The decisions are still yours accompanied with guidance from a professional.
We don’t need it all now. Of course we have dreams and plans for the future but waiting for them is okay. Taking the time to plan and save now will ensure that our goals are all met in the long run.
Looking for free or affordable financial advice?
Financial Support Services from UBC’s EFAP provider Shepell.
Know Your Financial Advisor-online search tool
Posted in Editorial, EFAP, Mental Health, Miranda Massie, Spot Light | Tagged editorial, facts, financial health, fun, mental health, money, money management, planning, resources, Support | Leave a response