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Supporting mental health in the workplace [Part 1 of 3]

One in five Canadians will experience some form of mental illness, so mental health is already having an impact in the workplace. By talking to employees and managers, Bell Canada implemented a workplace mental health initiative to support their employees with mental illness and ease their return to work. Bell’s work here and in other aspects of workplace mental health earned them the Canada Award for Excellence for outstanding performance in Mental Health at Work.

What can you learn from their lead?

Find out more at

Video transcript below:

Caitlin Nobes, HRM Online
Caitlin Nobes:
 It is becoming increasingly important to discuss and support mental health in the workplace especially at this time of the year.  The Bell Let’s Talk campaign started the conversation in the community.  Now Bell Canada Director, Learning & Engagement, Angie Harrop is here to discuss the Bell Workplace Mental Health Initiative.
This series is brought to you by Global Knowledge, Canada’s largest corporate learning and development partner.

Caitlin Nobes:  Mental health is a big discussion topic in the community and workplace at the moment.  Can you tell me a bit about Bell’s mental health initiative?

Angie Harrop, Director, Learning & Development, Bell Canada
Angie Harrop:
 Sure, so Bell’s journey started 3 years ago in 2010 when we announced a commitment of $50 million to mental health initiative.  We developed four key pillars as part of this strategy, workplace mental health, research, community care and access as well as Anti-Stigma.  And I think anti-stigma might be the most publicly familiar part of the initiative with the Bell Let’s Talk campaign, recognising that simply having conversations is the most significant way to break down the barriers surrounding mental health.  The program encourages people in Canada to have conversations with their friends, their family and their co-workers which is why I am so pleased to have this conversation with HR professionals across the country.

Caitlin Nobes:  Tell me a bit more about the workplace mental health pillar.

Angie Harrop:  Well research shows that 1 in 5 Canadians will suffer from some form of mental illness at some point in their life.  Half a million Canadians are absent from work everyday due to mental illness.  So it’s the number one cause of disability.  Therefore it’s not just an HR topic of discussion, it’s a business issue.  

Caitlin Nobes:  And what was Bell’s first step in this important initiative?

Angie Harrop:  The first thing we did was listen.  We ran to focus groups across the country, we talked to hundreds of employees to learn about their perceptions, their awareness and their experiences.  Based on their learnings, that shaped the next step which was to drive awareness and education with our leaders and with our employees.  Starting at the top we ran face to face training sessions all the way down to our frontline employees, with online training.  Today we have trained more than 4500 leaders.  The next thing we focused on were the employees who needed our help most immediately, employees who were living with mental illness, who may have been on a short term disability and returning to work.  With the help of mental health experts we looked at our processes and made some improvements, notably we added support for the employee as well as we ensured that the disability case worker developing the return to work plan was trained in mental illness and so far we have seen a reduction in the relapse and recurrence of the short term disability cases.

Caitlin Nobes:  Next week Angie talks about how Bell moved beyond the early stages of its employee mental health initiative,[so it would be] for needs analysis and engagement with management teams across Canada.