In Canada, more and more workplaces are realizing the value and benefits of offering mental health peer support to their employees. The Mental Health Commission of Canada describes peer support as a supportive relationship between people who share a lived experience, where the peer support worker can provide emotional and social support.
Research has shown that peer support helps alleviates stigma and fosters healthier coping strategies (O'Hagan & al, 2010). Having someone who has recovered from a mental illness offer practical advice and support can help improve both recovery and the development of healthy coping strategies for others at work. When that person also works in the same field as someone who is struggling, the advice is often even more valuable and relevant.
Lyne Wilson, Director, Talent Acquisition and Organizational Health at NAV CANADA, said that conversations about mental health at work have definitely advanced. "Before, there were employees who were struggling and some didn't know where to turn, creating frustration. Now we're seeing employees seeking support and those who had been struggling progress through their careers and it's very satisfying."
While there are many reasons this has evolved, Wilson credits peer support as one way of making it safer for employees to get support. “We weren't talking about it and now we are, through initiatives such as peer support where employees and managers can learn through the experiences of others who have had mental health issues and been able to work through it,” she said.
Stéphane Grenier is a peer support expert, who is a retired Lieutenant Colonel with 29 years of service in the Canadian Forces. He is Principal Founder and Lead Innovator of Mental Health Innovations. "Healing, transformative conversations that people with shared experiences can have provides hope," he said. In addition to providing trusted peers to talk to, this sense of hopefulness can support recovery. "People in these situations are looking for hope, which is something that doctors can't always provide. Only those people who have been through it and have recovered can do that," he said.
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