Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mental Health in the Workplace

I may or may not have mentioned before that Occupational Therapy is a second career for me. I'm not sure if it has ever come up in this blog? At any rate, my previous career was working in Human Resources for a large corporation that shall remain nameless. I wasn't an executive... just a worker bee like many other corporate working bees in this world. I liked my job. There were many parts of it that I was good at, and I found great satisfaction in mastery of my work. I also had the fortune of working with a number of really great people over the years. I was paid well, I had good benefits, a pension plan, full-time status, stock options... and for 6 years I hated myself for every minute I was there.
The industry this corporation is in was going through a HUGE transition when I worked there. Stress levels were high. Toward the end the only constants were that we were being expected to do more and more with fewer and fewer resources, and big change in the way of executive turn-over and corporate restructuring was a monthly occurrence. I had to move to an unfamiliar city, I had a new commute of one hour each way if I didn't hit traffic, I was working crazy amounts of overtime, and I was profoundly lonely. The irony of it is that part of the reason I found it so hard to leave is because I could see how much better off I was than many of the other worker bees... those in sales and marketing, in management, in customer service... they had it far worse than I did.
In the end I did leave. I was lucky... not having a spouse or children; having a family who was supportive of my decision to change my life's course... I was able to make a change in support of my long-term health and well-being that many of my co-workers did not have the luxury to choose. So, even on the hardest days in school or when I'm lamenting the fact that I live on debt, I am grateful every second for the opportunity I've been given to do something else with my life.
My experience, and having witnessed the experiences of so many others in that corporate environment, has made me very aware of the toll workplace stress can take. Physical ailments, relationship strain, coworker bullying, weight gain, drug use, gambling, the compulsive need to attain material items to demonstrate the value of one's life, mounting debt... these are all common symptoms I have seen exhibited by employees who were struggling with the stress of a toxic work environment. And for some (I would argue many) the cost to their mental health was the greatest of all.
So, when I saw this little video by the CMHA it affected me deeply.
I hope you will take 2 minutes to have a look, and maybe even spread the word.
Thanks, :)SweetPea


  1. Hi there! Thanks for sharing that video.. and more importantly your personal exp!
    I'm planning to pursue a career in OT and look forward to your updates!

  2. how did u take such a sharp turn from corporate to health care??

  3. Thank you anonymous posters for taking the time to read my blog!
    With regard to the question about "how" I got into OT the answer is: hard work and a lot of personal sacrifice. But what I believe you actually want to know is "why?"
    While the answer to that is a fairly long narrative I think I can address a lot of that question with two statements. 1) Every person in this world has more than one dimension to her/his self and his/her life. OT actually makes far more sense for me in the context of the whole of my self and the sum of my experiences than my HR job ever did. Plus, my life experience has been a HUGE asset to me in my development as an OT. 2) Corporate and Healthcare are not as different as you might imagine. Especially when you're talking about doing OT in a hospital setting, the two are not very different at all. In HR part of my role was doing training seminars on occupational safety, I chaired the employee wellness committee, I did ergonomic assessments of employee workstations, and I scheduled employee return to work plans after disability leaves of absence. In the hospitals, I've seen layers of bureaucracy, committees, policy development, labour disputes, seniority issues, and the influence of system-level problems on the day to day work of caring for people, all of which remind me a LOT of the corporation I worked for. So, yeah... from my perspective they're not really different at all.
    Plus, I've seen great people from all kinds of different backgrounds get accepted into the OT program at Mac and I have to say that the diversity is an asset to our class. OTs are not a homogeneous lot and that's part of what makes us so freakin' awesome :D (my opinion).
    Thanks for asking... and I hope this answered your question.

  4. wow! that is so insightful.. i did not no that business and health care can share such similarities!! because they always seem like they are from opposite spectrums you know.

    so i was reading your blog and you said you recently graduated from a psych program, does that mean you have 2 undergrad degrees (one is business-HR and then a psy degree) i was just wondering why you didnt apply to OT with your business degree because i thought it didnt matter what you studied for undergrad.

  5. Hi,

    New to the blog but found it really interesting. Will make sure I keep coming back for more - particularly liked the clip.

    Thanks from a UK OT


  6. Ooo... good question. No one has asked me about that before. I do have two undergrad degrees! But alas, the grades I achieved in my first degree were not at all competitive so I had to take a few more courses to pull my gpa up. It turns out that with advanced standing for my previous degree it wouldn't take all that much to get a second degree. Plus, when I went back I didn't yet know that I wanted to do OT. All I knew was that I wanted to be in a mental health profession. So taking the entire psych degree opened up a lot of options for me. I also made a lot of connections and improved my academic record so much that I was successful in applying for both grad school AND for a major scholarship. It was worth every moment of the extra time it took to get where I was going.
    Having said that, I also have a really supportive family who raised me with the value that no education is ever wasted. Not everyone shares that value... and I have to say that without their support I don't think I could have taken the leap of faith to leave my old life and jump into (what at the time was) a very uncertain future. So, I don't think the second degree is strictly necessary, nor do I feel that it's a good choice for everyone. But I'm glad I did it. :)

  7. p.s. Matthew (OT in the UK), I don't know where your comment went but I wanted to say thanks!

  8. this is quite a random question.. but here goes... i have heart that ots have to deal alot with washrooms/toilets/showers/ etc... something you would expect of a nurse? not an ot??/

    what do ots do in regards to the above mentioned>?

  9. Have you finished your program yet?

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