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Case Study: Loblaws

In 2018, Loblaw started working on being more proactive by providing store managers with the tools they need to respond to mental health crises in the workplace.

Started MHFA Training: 2018
Staff Trained So Far: 423

Loblaw Companies Limited is the largest Canadian food retailer, operating under 22 regional and market segment banners, as well as pharmacies, banking, and apparel.

Why We Train Our Colleagues in MHFA

In any given year, one in five Canadians are living with a mental health or substance use problem.

“When you’re a national retailer with stores across Canada employing a large workforce, that’s a lot of people that might be experiencing a problem, having issues, or not doing well,” said Nathalie Gervais, Director of Medical Services for Loblaw.

Before the implementation of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), Loblaw’s mental health strategy was more reactive, responding to colleagues who reached out for help.“When you’re a national retailer with stores across Canada employing a large workforce, that’s a lot of people that might be experiencing a problem, having issues, or not doing well.”

Nathalie Gervais, Director of Medical Services for Loblaw.

In 2018, Loblaw started working on being more proactive by providing store managers with the tools they need to respond to mental health crises in the workplace.

“We wanted to make sure that any issues that were popping up in different stores were dealt with in a very timely fashion,” she said. “We needed to make sure that people had the tools in their toolbox to be able to manage – or at least be able to triage – the situation and ensure they have support or that they’re not at risk.”

Gervais explained that between 2018 and 2019, Loblaw introduced the MHFA program, a course developed to help people provide support to someone who may be experiencing a decline in their mental well-being or who may be in a crisis. They set a goal of training two people per store.

“We asked the store managers to nominate people towards whom others naturally gravitate,” she said. “We were looking for people that have a knack for communication and whom other employees seem to be comfortable sharing issues with. These are the folks that we have trained so far.”

Results

Since the introduction of MHFA, Loblaw has trained 423 of their managers. Now colleagues have someone in the organization that they can have a conversation with about mental health issues and who may be able to direct them toward medical support should they need it.

“All of the feedback that we’ve gotten from those trained in MHFA was excellent. They’re always saying that it’s the best training they’ve ever received,” she said. “This [course] is something they can use not only for their teams, but also with their families and friends. This is knowledge that doesn’t just stay in the back of your brain – you can continuously use it.”

Gervais explained that MHFA has helped build up people’s confidence in having difficult conversations about mental health with their peers.

“Depending on the situation, there could be crises where their mental health or physical safety is at risk. Other times, it might be that they’ve had a bad day and just need to talk to someone,” she said.

One of the new elements of the MHFA course is the focus on self-care. During the pandemic this has been a crucial element for Nathalie and her team: “We use the MHFA guidelines to create some education,” she said. “What my team has learned is self-care. We’ve worked long hours for months on end and we kind of forgot the self-care piece along the way.”

Gervais explained that she and her Medical Services team are ensuring that they are taking time for themselves and are staying healthy.

“We’re the people that are responsible for keeping everybody else healthy,” she explained. “We just want to make sure that we’re there on the appreciation piece. So, when somebody says, ‘thank you,’ we have learned to say, ‘you’re welcome.’” This ensures that their team is taking a pause to reflect on how they’re making a difference and also recognizing the gratitude of others.

What the Future Holds

“We will continue to help Canadians live life well, and mental health will be top of mind for everyone,” she said. “Because once the dust settles and people kind of get into a new normal, I’m not sure what we have dealt with in the last year will go away.”

Gervais explained that due to the lockdown, people may have developed unhealthy coping mechanisms.

“I think we’re going to start seeing issues coming out of the woodwork that indicate we need mental health support more than ever,” she explained. “[Before] we had to push mental health. Now we’re getting a pull on the request that’s greater than we would’ve ever imagined.”

She expressed concern for her colleagues and wondered what the new “normal” will look like once the pandemic ends.

“We’re keeping a close eye on the folks that work for us; we’re looking at conduct, behaviour, and what they’re saying to us,” said Gervais. “But a lot of people suffer in silence and don’t really say anything, and I’m not sure how many [people are struggling]. I don’t think it’s one in five anymore.”

Although the pandemic delayed plans for further training, Gervais explained that in the future she wants everyone at Loblaw to have mental health tools – not just the managers – so they can share their knowledge and experience with their peers and help those who need it.

“I have to say the program is great,” she said. “It touches upon everything that we need for our group leaders.”

To learn more about MHFA and how you can bring it to your workplace, click here.

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