Written by: Linda Lupini

World Mental Health Day: The Value of Connection

World Mental Health Day, celebrated every year on October 10, plays a crucial role in raising awareness and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health. It provides an opportunity for individuals and organizations to reflect on their current practices, advocate for better mental health care, and make necessary adjustments to promote a healthier work-life balance.

Our special guest speaker, Bena Stock, is a registered clinical counsellor and mental health specialist who has shared her knowledge and expertise with us in previous mental health discussions on ‘Changing Your Mindset About Stress’, ‘Managing Change and Boundaries’, and hosted our ‘Work/Life Balance and Building Resilience’ webinar. This year, Bena hosted a discussion exploring the value of connection, featuring our Copperleaf panelists:

Connectedness and Mental Health

Bena began the session by explaining that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health challenge in their lives. She explained that post-pandemic, a growing issue for many is the lack of meaningful human connection. Social exclusion and isolation can lead to a myriad of issues including depression, loneliness, and social anxiety. One’s sense of emotional safety and belonging is built through real-life interactions, which are vital for physical and mental wellbeing.

How Can We Enhance Our Sense of Belonging?

Research shows that individuals with higher emotional intelligence/quotient (EQ)—the ability to interpret and use emotions to communicate with and relate to others effectively—experience higher levels of belonging and inclusion. Bena shared that EQ is a set of skills we can work on improving. Strategies such as pausing, thinking about feelings, praising others, and benefiting from criticism, were discussed as steps to improve EQ.

Active Constructive Responding

The quality of our relationships in the workplace can determine the quality of our work and success. Bena explained that taking the time to be authentic and honest helps build trust and connectedness in our relationships. In this context, an important skill she shared is Active Constructive Responding (ACR)—one of four ways in which we respond to good news. Bena and Copperleafer Shannon Archambault acted out different responses and showed how the way we emotionally respond in situations can affect both parties. For example, if the receiver of the good news actively and constructively responds, it can often provide a boost in wellbeing to both people involved in the conversation.

Panel Discussions

Bena introduced our first two panelists, Tom Ribeiro and Bethany Pollock, to share their experiences of feeling isolated, struggling with mental health, and choosing to break their silence to find support.

In 2021, Tom moved to Canada to complete his MBA program. His family lived in Brazil and couldn’t relocate with him right away. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, classes were moved online, and Tom found himself quickly feeling isolated and lonely in his new home. Understanding that making connections was vital for him to improve his mental health and move forward, he decided to make small goals for himself, such as trying to meet someone new on his train commute each day. After four months, his family was finally able to relocate and they’re now happier than ever to call Canada their new home.

Bethany described herself as the type of person who ‘wears her heart on her sleeve’ and needs to process things externally. Sometimes that work of processing things involves expressing strong emotions. She noted she was raised in a family that loved her very much, but also valued stoicism, which does not come to her naturally. So as an adult, she has learned to build bonds with people who are comfortable talking through things when they’re coupled with emotions, including a close circle of friends and a professional therapist. Bethany explained that finding real connections with people you can trust and be vulnerable with allows you to speak up when you’re struggling, or equally important, have someone to celebrate with when there’s a reason to. She feels having that support is incredibly important for your mental health.

Bena welcomed our final two panelists, Eugenio Rodriguez and Kirsten Harrold, to discuss the importance of prioritizing mental health, some of the things they do to remain emotionally healthy, and the harmful effects of mental health stigma.

Eugenio said that when we talk about health, most people default to physical health. But mental health is equally as important and greatly affects your personal and professional life. For him, having a sense of humor gives a boost to his mental health and helps build connections with others. A self-described extrovert, he understands that being with people gives him energy. He also shared that because the brain associates rooms with certain activities, he makes a conscious effort to go into the office regularly in order to create a divide between rest and work. Eugenio explained that social connections make work more enjoyable, and that trust is needed between colleagues for project success.

Kirsten shared the stigma she experienced at a previous job when seeking mental health support. She was having a difficult time in her personal life and spoke to her manager about getting more flexibility in her work schedule in order to attend therapy sessions, which was agreed to. However, her manager would subsequently use that information to undermine her in front of colleagues, saying things like, “Well your reasoning might not be sound. After all, you’re in therapy.” This type of behavior affected the advancement of her professional career and impacted her colleagues who then feared seeking help for their mental health when needed. Though a terrible experience for her to endure, Kirsten said that she now strives to create a safe space for her team to discuss their mental health at work.

In Conclusion

In today’s fast-paced world, the need for human connection is more important than ever. Fostering genuine connection requires effort and intentionality—it involves reaching out to others, truly listening, showing empathy, and being open to new experiences. Let’s remember to put in the effort because we now know that meaningful connection is essential for our overall wellbeing and can help us lead healthier lives.

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