Mental health in the workplace: it’s okay to talk about it

A range of themes was explored at the latest “Store” convention held recently in Toronto by the Retail Council of Canada. Some of them covered the human side of the business. One in particular dealt directly with the taboos of mental health, and how to overcome those taboos in the workplace.

Henry’s Cameras is a well-known photography retailer based in Toronto, considered the go-to for any serious photographer. Gillian Henry is the CEO of this family-owned business. She shared the very personal story of her battle with mental illness, which started with a breakdown during her first year at university. It was eventually diagnosed as bipolar disorder.

She urged companies to be willing to talk about mental health. That’s the best way to create awareness and acceptance, she said. Too many people are concerned that talking about their own difficulties will stigmatize them and cause them to lose their job. A company instead must be set up, not just to support staff with mental health challenges, but to demonstrate and communicate that. Henry stressed the importance of creating a safe space for everyone and setting a tone that allows people to open up about their situations.

“You have to show that it’s okay not to be okay.”

Henry offered some tips for getting started:

  • Don’t assume anything about your people or their conditions.
  • Focus on self-care, which can include a range of concepts from encouraging good diet to building in times for personal reflection.
  • Don’t be afraid to keep delivering the message. “Over-communicating what you have for support is number one—and an easy one.”

She talked about the notion of vulnerable leadership. “It’s hard to do, but really, really important.”