“What I like to say is ‘You need to think about resiliency as a muscle.’ I can’t expect to wake up tomorrow and tell myself ‘Today’s the day I’m going to run the marathon’ and then just put on my running shoes, and go and run 43 kilometres. I’d probably be in for a pretty rough time.”

“Resiliency is like a muscle as well. It’s something that we have to exercise, in practice, on a daily basis in order for it to be effective when we really need it,” said Blake. “HR should commit to programming in the workplace that helps build that resiliency muscle in your workforce. It could be things as simple as having a day where you all learn yoga or you learn meditation or grounding techniques or you go for a walk together, go to the ROM or the AGO or a museum together.”

But we don’t want employers or leaders to become armchair therapists, delving into our psyche or thinking they can cure illnesses, said Mary Ann Baynton, program director at the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace in Waterdown, Ont. It’s about the emotional intelligence and development of leaders, along with preventing burnout and trauma.

That can mean activities of 15 to 30 minutes, she said.

“You don’t have to invest a lot in terms of time, money, technology, just conversations that seem relatively easy in a workplace, but are known to help build resilience.”

HR professionals are facing challenges when it comes to employees reporting mental-health problems, said Ruben Rodney, and sometimes recognizing poor mental health is easier said than done.

“Mental health is called the invisible disability that you don’t often see. Your employer sees people are taking time off because they have a lot of headaches or they have the flu. You may not know if it’s just that they can’t get out of bed in the morning, or they had panic attacks the night before, and couldn’t sleep; it is probably not as likely that you’re going to be able to get that kind of information,” she said.

It’s about educating employees on how to come forward and have conversations with their manager, said Ruben Rodney.

“And then also ensuring that managers are equipped to be able to know what to do with these scenarios,” she said.

“HR professionals should make sure that they are inquiring (about employees’ health) and there’s lots of benefits for the HR person to be able to turn that around. You’re going to have more productivity, you’re going to have better staff retention, you’re going to obviously less absenteeism, (so) that people will really feel supported, they’re going to get more engagement at work.”

‘Ask the question’

When considering a new policy, program, decision or change in strategy, HR should consider how it might impact the psychological health and safety of stakeholders such as employees, leaders or clients, said Baynton.

“That actually makes them stop and think about what the unintended or intended consequences might be so that they avoid stepping on that landmine.”

And when HR professionals consider continuing professional development hours, some of those should include mental health or mental wellness or psychological health and safety, said Blake.

Training programs such as mental health first aid are also recommended.

“That’s just like having someone in the workplace with first aid and CPR from St. John ambulance; you hope you never have to use it but that one time someone falls down in the hallway and you know how to do chest compressions, you’re saving that person’s life — having at least one person in the office with mental health first aid will end up saving a life at some point,” he said.

Suppressing stigma

On the positive side, the shame that used to prevent people from seeking help for mental health problems seems to be disappearing.

“Health is health, whether it’s physical or mental health, so we need to normalize the talk as much as possible. We have noticed stigma reduction, definitely in the past five to 10 years; more so I would say the past two to five years, which is wonderful,” said Kamkar.

People are more aware and more likely to report than they were a decade or two ago, which is a good thing, said Baynton, “because I’m not sure that the rates are necessarily going up but I think that the ability for people to reach out for help to self-identify is going up.”