Restoring hope: How an employer’s commitment to mental health can help young people grappling with the fallout of the global pandemic

commitment to mental health, dr matthew chow on how employers can prioritize mental health

This blog features highlights from conversations about mental healthcare transformation on the Wicked Mind pod, hosted by Dr. Diane McIntosh. Listen to the full conversation with Dr. Matthew Chow and then explore others in the Wicked Mind series.

Dr. Matthew Chow has noticed one defining characteristic among his young patients since the pandemic started. 

“I’m worried about the loss of hope,” he says. 

Dr. Chow, a specialist in child and youth mental health and TELUS Health’s Chief Mental Health Officer, says that over the past three years children and adolescents have seen their lives disrupted, which prevented them from forming meaningful relationships and enjoying life’s milestones, such as graduations and parties. “Just so much was deferred,” he added.

But now, he says, the key is to provide young people with a new message: that something good can come, even out of very difficult times. 

“We are emerging from one of the greatest crises that any of us alive right now have ever experienced in their lifetimes,” he says.

According to Dr. Chow, in order to process the pandemic’s frightening events, we have to harness our “superpower,” which is our ability to find meaning in almost any experience. Finding meaning provides the possibility to restore hope and reverse the disruptive impact we all experienced through the pandemic.

He says employers have a critical role to play in ensuring employees and the younger members of their families are supported and given access to mental health support. 

Through prevention, early intervention and the normalization of mental health issues, Dr. Chow believes more people who are suffering will ask for and accept the help they need.

Here’s how employers can take action now to become mental health leaders.

Treat employees like a resource

“I’ve recently learned of a drive to [treat employees] as a financial asset– because good employees have a financial value for the organization,” says Dr. Chow. He says that seeing employees as a financial asset can instill goodwill, boost an organization’s productivity and foster a sense of loyalty to the workplace.

Develop a culture of inclusivity

Employers have a tremendously important role in supporting mental health, says Dr. Chow. 

“When you count up the hours in a day, apart from our families and friends and our hobbies, we spent the most time actually at work,” he says. “And so how employers deal with mental health, how they talk about mental health, how they infuse it into their culture, is so incredibly important for achieving excellent health outcomes.” 

He says that organizations that show commitment to mental health and create a culture that encourages open dialogue around mental health issues can go a very long way in restoring the mental and physical wellbeing of employees. “Inculcate a culture where taking care of one another and asking about one another’s wellbeing and health is a part of what we do, rather than an extra,” he says.

Change the language

Dr. Chow says that changing the narrative around mental health means moving away from focusing just on treatment and how much it costs, and instead focusing on the value created by having good mental health and wellbeing. 

A healthy workforce is more engaged, more productive, less likely to turnover, and more likely to bring forward the creative ideas needed to stay competitive in a rapidly changing environment.

Help remove stigma through openness around mental health

While younger generations are more open with their mental health struggles, stigma still exists, says Dr. Chow. 

For example, it is still difficult to talk about substance abuse. “It’s still the last frontier,” says Dr. Chow. 

He says that employers need to offer access to addiction and recovery programs as part of their benefits offerings to help address these issues and normalize the conversation about these mental health obstacles.

Look at return on investment rather than upfront mental health support costs

Mental illness can cause or worsen physical illness, which can drive up short-term and long-term disability costs. Investing in prevention strategies, as well as maximizing access to mental health treatments, can actually reduce costs in the long-term. 

“What we invest in mental healthcare pays incalculable dividends on the other end,” says Dr. Chow. “Make a commitment to mental health. You’ve got to take care of your employees for them to be able to take care of the business.”

Stop thinking that was done in the past is adequate

What’s most important is that health benefit plan sponsors don’t just resume business as usual, offering the benefits programs they offered before the pandemic, says Dr. Chow. 

He says that benefits offerings now need to be transformative in order to prevent burnout, boost retention and help with pandemic recovery.

“We are not going to dig ourselves out of the global crisis by doubling down on what we’ve already been doing before that hasn’t been successful,” says Dr. Chow.

“We need to change the system.”

Listen to my conversation with Dr. Matthew Chow on the Wicked Mind podcast>>

This blog post is part of a series looking at the state of our mental healthcare system and ways we can create sustainable change to improve quality and outcomes for anyone impacted by mental illness. 

stabilizing healthcare crisis, podcasts on mental health, dr. alika fontaine on healthcare

Tackling the Healthcare Crisis: Stabilize to Scale

“I think one of the challenges that mental health has always had is that it was pushed out of view. We always knew there was a crisis in mental health.” Dr. Alika Fontaine shares his ideas to stabilize the system and move things forward.

Read More »
workplace mental health, peer support in corporations, occupational stress disorder

Workplace Mental Health: How Experience Fuels Change

Some experiences are so profound they leave a lasting mark, shaping who we are and who we become. Our workplaces are the beneficiary of Stéphane’s experience in Rwanda and what happened after. His ideas on transforming workplace mental healthcare. Which of the 3 buckets of workplace mental health programs does your organization belong in?

Read More »

Contact Dr. Diane McIntosh

Please provide your contact information in the form below. It helps if you provide enough detail in your message so we can help. We look forward to hearing from you!

Thank you!

Thank you for your message. We will respond to your email promptly.