Podcast Title: Health and Safety to Go!

Episode #166 - Peer-to-Peer Support/Mental Health in Workplace:  An Interview with Steve Tizzard



Introduction: Welcome to Health and Safety to Go! broadcasting from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.

Host: Thank you for joining us for this episode of ‘Health and safety to Go’.  Our guest today is Steve Tizzard. He's the radio operator on the Hibernia platform and the founding member of the Offshore Wellness committee which encompasses both onshore and offshore staff in the oil and gas industry.   Today Steve is going to share his experience in building a mentally healthy peer to peer support program. Thanks for joining us today Steve.

Steve:   Thank you for the opportunity and good morning.

Host:  So you're known as a Mental Health Advocate. However your background didn't really start in mental health. How did you get to where you are now?

Steve:   Well, we've worked in a very isolated area. The Hibernia platform is 315 kilometers offshore the coast of Newfoundland Labrador. It's been there since 1997 and during that time obviously like many other workplaces, we had some people who were suffering in silence due to mental health issues, but due to stigma wouldn't come forward and ask for some help.  Some started to reach out for some confidential help. We had no education on how to help those people at the time. We never had any techniques on listening. So we tried our best, but we certainly knew that we needed to go and reach out and get some additional education. We also had the Cougar 491 tragedy, unfortunately in March of 2009 and not immediately after that but three to four years after the tragedy, we had workers who started to experience some anxieties and stressors especially around our travel to and from the workplace. And finally we experienced loss like many other workplaces again, and we had very little in coping mechanisms. We had typical questions that we couldn't answer.  Could we have helped, did we see anything that we could have reached out or would the person have reached out to us if we had a support program in the workplace at the time?

Host:  So speaking about you know your work on the Hibernia platform, what was most evident about working in that situation?

Steve:  So the isolation is certainly up there as a reason for the stress and anxiety, but digging down a little deeper, we found that keeping good supports and relationships became more difficult. And I guess this is why we all need to have that confidential person who has our back or we need to talk to when the days get too heavy.  We miss so many things when we're offshore. We miss our birthdays, Christmases, graduations, Easter, so our co-workers around us become our family and as a caring family, we want to be there for each other.

Host:  I think it's a really good point that you bring up. I mean we always say here, you know, we kind of have our work family and our ‘family family’ and I think it's great to build that community support, you know within the work environment because we spend so much of our working days here in the workplace away from our families, whether it be in an office or you know offshore, like you said in a remote area.

Steve:   Absolutely!

Host:  Steve, what are the challenges in establishing and building a peer-to-peer mental health program?

Steve:   Jen, the challenges are many, you know, if you need to show patience, really be prepared. Well, I think we can show any company or corporation the huge benefits of a peer-to-peer program. It benefits the employees so much. It's a worker to worker led program. However, there are still some people that run in the other direction when we say the word mental health and that's okay. We need to educate more.  They feel that a lot of mental health issues around known for them or it's comfortable for them to speak about it.

So therefore sometimes other programs within the workplace get more visibility for the mental health program. Sometimes we have people that are not interested because they have seen things in society that are blamed on mental health without understanding the issues or the disorder, and the thought that financing sometimes is needed to start a program and we've really shown that financing is not an issue for a peer-to-peer program. We bring a program into our workplace. We give employees the tools to be able to have a good conversation and be able to listen, and then the program goes on from there.

Some people may think that speaking about mental health is going to create mental health issues for workers, rather with stigma lowered people feel more comfortable to reach out and that's exactly where we want to go. We want employees, workers inclusively managers. It doesn't matter anybody in the workplace to feel comfortable that they can reach out to another co-worker to get the help that they need, and hopefully even with a mental health first aid program, to be able to get that person to the appropriate professional resources as quickly as possible.


Host:  That's great. I think you know, we like to call that a culture of caring where you know, everyone's supporting each other and it's a safe space to talk about what's on your mind, especially with mental health. Having said that, what advice would you give to other workplaces who may be wanting to start a peer to peer support program?


Steve:    Well first and foremost, you have an opportunity to change people's lives profoundly.  Any mental health advocate will tell you they don't do it for any pat on the back or for any type of award.  We want to help people and we want to help the people around us.  And when help is offered or there are avenues confidentially to reach out, people can gain the tools and educate on symptoms. Some they may have had for years without a diagnosis and I think that's very important.

Host:   Steve before we wrap up, are there any closing thoughts you'd like to leave us with?

Steve:   Well, certainly let's not give up, you know, there are many many challenges that we face when we're trying to start a peer-to-peer grow program or a mental health program in the workplace. Certainly we need to be inclusive. We need to involve everybody in our workplace that includes part-time full-time, vendors, contractors, managers, rotational workers, everybody. All decision makers should be involved. We really engage the union and the company when we started this program and then throughout that we moved on to mental health moments, which educates little by little in our workplaces on various topics.  And they are just small PowerPoint presentations that you can do at any safety meeting or occupational health and safety meeting and it just has such an impact on the workplace because you are educating three or four minutes on different topics and people start relating to the symptoms and the signs in those presentations.

We also had a huge interest in our significant others and spouses when we started this program. We felt that you could not have good mental health at work if you were dealing with mental health issues at home, either when we're around rotation or when we returned home. So with some of the more formal training, such as the mental health first aid program, we involved our spouses and our significant others and have them attend the program with us.  Even though mental health first aid is not a couple’s counseling program, we really were able to learn the stressors and anxieties they have when they're left alone at home, and they understood the stressors and anxiety that we have when we are at work.

Also, we just keep on telling our workforce and people that come forward not to be ashamed or think mental health is a weakness. It's certainly not.  We want to be able to give the tools and the information and get those people to the appropriate resources so they can own their illness and really continue to be a productive and powerful person in the workplace. We ask them not to give up, either starting a program or for the person who is suffering.  Continue to try new things and strategies and I think together we can help improve everybody's life and actually possibly save a life with these programs.


Host: Thank you again for sharing your story with us today Steve.

Steve:   You're very very welcome. I wish everybody the best in their mental health and in the future

Host:  Steve is a Mental Health First Aid Instructor and certified as a Psychological Health and Safety Advisor with the Canadian Mental Health Association.  For more information about mental health, visit ccohs.ca/healthy Minds. Thanks for listening everyone.