Psychological Health and Safety: A Hard Lesson
In one month, Canada lost four military soldiers to suicide. Having been personally affected by suicide, I understand what this means to the families of these men. This is a truly a tragedy and unfortunately, is not the first time Canadian soldiers have taken their own lives. In 2011 and 2012, a total of 35 members of the Canadian Forces committed suicide. Mental health problems in the military are steadily increasing. Many soldiers who return home from war are struggling with serious psychological disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Tragically, those that are suffering are often hesitant to get help because of the stigma and the self-stigma of mental illness. In a warrior culture, soldiers have a problem stepping forward with mental health issues.
Often, these issues surface as drinking or drug problems. The military’s response to these problems has been described as very cold and completely inflexible, applying disciplinary action without regard to broader mental health issues. It seems leadership has taken the emotion out of dealing with these problems and seems to be in denial about mental illness in the military.
And when s oldiers do decide to be upfront and come forward with their mental health issues, they are treated as a liability and pushed off to the side . Suicide happens because they feel they h ave lost everything they thought they had and have nothing left to live for.
What’s happening in the Canadian military is a hard lesson for all organizations. I see many parallels to the military culture and the culture that is inherent in many companies and organizations. The whole concept of psychological health and safety in the workplace is a fairly new one; an idea that many workplaces have not yet embraced. As an Organizational Development Specialist and Leadership Coach, psychological health and safety is a large part of what I do every day.
Canada has developed a voluntary Standard to help organizations strive towards continuous improvement for psychological health and safety in the workplace. The standard not only works to prevent harm to worker psychological health, it also promotes psychological well-being. Increased organizational effectiveness is a beneficial bi-product of a psychologically safe culture. Workplaces with a positive approach to psychological health and safety are better able to recruit and retain talent, improve employee engagement, increase productivity, enhance creativity and innovation, and boost bottom line results.
Hopefully, the Canadian Standard of providing a psychologically safe workplace will soon become a part of organizational culture. My wish is that the death of these four soldiers sparks a move to remove the stigma about mental health and improve the culture not only in the military, but in organizations all over the world.
For more information on psychological health and safety in the workplace, contact Susanne.