New book looks at the evolution of workplace mental health in Canada

Ten years ago I received a phone call that changed my life. It was from a consultant from Toronto who had been hired by Great-West Life to head up their latest initiative—a centre for mental health in the workplace.

Mary Ann Baynton

Mary Ann Baynton talks about banner year that included Centre launch.

The consultant, Mary Ann Baynton, had been told that I was probably the best person to help her get this thing branded and up and running online in the shortest time possible. I recall that there were still a lot of questions about what this centre for workplace mental health would be, in particular from a messaging and branding perspective. But Mary Ann and I persevered and the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace was launched on the web just three months after that first phone call.

Workplace mental health was a whole new world for me at that time, so I am indebted to the people at Great-West Life as well as Mary Ann who trusted me to help get things started.

While that endorsement changed the course of my career, it also connected me to one of the most inspiring people who would help steer the course of my life. Mary Ann is a trusted colleague, an expert who is always generous in sharing what she knows, and a friend I know I can count on to have my back.

Our work over the past 10 years has included collaboration on tools and resources that cover a multitude of topics and issues related to workplace mental health. All were developed with the goal of being available free of charge to help business leaders turn knowledge into action in addressing and preventing workplace mental health issues.
Together we explored topics such as depression, anxiety, stress, burnout, addiction, suicide, bullying, harassment, stigma, dementia, and trauma from a workplace perspective.

I brought everything I had to the table and in a some instances, was writing my own story.

A few years ago, the language started to change from these issues, which were often considered concerns for individual employees, to psychological health and safety, which concerned the responsibility of the employer. This was part of a huge shift that Mary Ann and others were leading that was looking at how the workplace could be addressing this aspect of health and safety.

I cheered on from the sidelines as Mary Ann and a large number of other like-minded, passionate, committed pioneers helped draft the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. It is the first standard of its kind in the world.

About a year and a half ago, Mary Ann turned to me and said, “I’ve been thinking…” When I’ve heard those words over the past decade I usually knew it meant more work for the cause that Mary Ann is tireless in supporting. She had been thinking about a way to celebrate those who had been working — also tirelessly — to bring positive change to workplaces in the area of mental health and more recently, psychological health and safety.

Her idea was for us to collaborate again—this time—on a book that would capture these stories.

Mary Ann likes to quote Margaret Mead in saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” What she is referring to is the fact that it took people from government, not-for-profits, treatment facilities, businesses, and organizations to make these changes to workplace mental health. Although the group was not large, they certainly achieved some very big things.

Sharing their stories was one of the goals of our book.

The Evolution of Workplace Mental Health in Canada: Toward a standard for psychological health and safety, was released on September 21, 2017. Those that are part of this tremendous movement have said they are thrilled to see the many events, people and stories that contributed to this evolution gathered in one place.

Leanne Fournier photo credit: Robert Durham Photography

It has been an incredibly busy, demanding, exciting, terrifying, and finally, exhilarating year. At times I wondered, who am I to think I can write this? But with Mary Ann’s persistence, encyclopedic knowledge, and patience we got it done together.

We also were lucky to have the help of numerous reviewers of the book, including many people from Great-West Life, and our colleagues from across Canada who were continuing to advance workplace mental health. This included in no small part people like Dr. Joti Samra and Dr. Ian Arnold. Our editors and proofreaders — Christine Gordon Manley, Sherry Kaniuga, Kate Heartfield, Cassandra Filice — were invaluable, as was the book design team at Relish.

The many people who shared their stories with us are truly in a class of their own. I am humbled by their dedication, insights and expertise.

One of the best things about my job is the opportunity to engage with people that have made a real difference in the world. I get to talk to people like Mary Ann, Joti and Ian, Martin Shain, Maureen Shaw, François Legault, Mandi Buckner, Stéphane Grenier, and so many others who figured in our book.

I get to be moved and motivated by their stories. And best of all, I get to share them with you.

You can download your free copy of the ebook here.

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