Making mental health mandatory

2012 shooting tragedy triggers campaign for awareness, change

Is there potential for positivity to come of tragedy? On Jun. 15, 2012, when Travis Baumgartner shot four of his co-workers while they performed a routine cash transfer at HUB Mall in Edmonton, it didn’t seem that there could ever be a silver lining. Brian Ilesic, Eddie Rejano and Michelle Shegelski lost their lives; their families lost parents, children and partners. Matthew Schuman was rushed to the hospital with a gunshot wound to the head; his life would never be the same.

In the days, weeks and months following the brutal attack, the fallout rippled across the Teamsters Local Union 362, which represented the workers. Families struggled with the devastation of losing a loved one. Employees battled with feeling unsafe in their workplaces. Most tragically, three lives were taken, and a fourth was dramatically altered. 

In this case, tragedy has sparked a revolution for awareness and change. The Teamsters Local 362’s “Make It Mandatory” campaign is predicated on the fact that although one in five Canadians suffer from mental health issues, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, many are reluctant to seek help because of the intense stigma that surrounds these struggles.

“There needs to be a requirement that, no matter where you work, you are required — every employer in this country is required — to have a mental health awareness program,” says Wayne Garner, Local Union 362 vice-president. 

The Make it Mandatory campaign brings the conversation on mental health to the table. By encouraging the public to use social media to call on celebrities, thought leaders and policymakers to advocate for mental health awareness in the workplace, Make It Mandatory stands up for those who feel left in the dark. 

The campaign uses videos to show the heart-wrenching struggle of families dealing with these difficult issues, and articles to fill out the stories behind these battles so, ultimately, solutions can be created.

But what do the solutions look like? Mental health is integral to the well-being of a workplace, an environment where people face challenges every day. From financial stress to physical stress, demanding learning curves to communication breakdowns, mental health is tested often at work. Managing human dynamics amplifies this. The bottom line: If mental health support was accessible in every workplace, what effect could that have on the overall culture of work?

 The Make It Mandatory campaign goes beyond raising awareness to start the process of creating solutions for an issue that has been misunderstood, misdiagnosed and mistreated for too long. Employers are encouraged to look at their business and highlight areas of communication that need development. Policy-makers at a government level can hold up their end by establishing policies to support these changes. 

If appropriate communication infrastructure is built into businesses, employees can begin to feel their management team is open to this conversation — not only will this make business more effective, it will result in an overall feeling of safety while at work.
Not everyone who is silently struggling with mental health issues is violent towards himself or others. Nonetheless, it is imperative that employers act to guarantee that people are less at risk while they are at work. 

The Make It Mandatory campaign mandates this by driving a movement of cultural awareness — working to lift the stigma around mental health, foster built-in support and establish accessible resources. There is no reason to suffer alone but by creating awareness and open dialogue, through an online community, we can degrade this internal turmoil. 

To a degree, the workplace is a controlled environment; therefore, communication and support can and should be mandatory.
Reconciling trauma by repurposing it for positive change is not a new concept, but the Make It Mandatory campaign is timely, thoughtful and integrated. It’s not placing blame — it’s looking to improve the lives of employees across the country. 

Through awareness, mental health issues can be managed, ensuring the workplace is safe for all.

Katie Burrell is a writer for Teamsters Local 362 in Calgary. For more information, contact Teamsters Local 362 vice-president Wayne Garner at [email protected]

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