Ad­vo­cates for so­cial change

National Post (Latest Edition) - - MOST ADMIRED CORPORATE CULTURES - PAUL BRENT

The Cen­tre for Ad­dic­tion and Men­tal Health ( CAMH) is an im­pres­sive fa­cil­ity: It is the coun­try’s largest men­tal health and ad­dic­tion teach­ing hos­pi­tal, and it is also one of the world’s lead­ing re­search cen­tres for ad­dic­tion and men­tal health.

But from the in­side, it seems filled with more of a spirit of pas­sion­ate ad­vo­cacy than one would ex­pect from an aca­demic health sci­ence cen­tre.

“Peo­ple work here be­cause of a per­sonal cause,” says Kim Bel­lis­simo, vi­cepres­i­dent of hu­man re­sources and or­ga­ni­za­tional de­vel­op­ment with CAMH. “They ei­ther have fam­ily or friends that they know who have ex­pe­ri­enced men­tal health is­sues or ad­dic­tion, or they them­selves might be some­one who has ex­pe­ri­enced a men­tal health is­sue or ad­dic­tion.”

The Toronto-based or­ga­ni­za­tion has been rec­og­nized as one of Canada’s 10 Most Ad­mired Cor­po­rate Cul­tures by Water­stone Hu­man Cap­i­tal in the Broader Pub­lic Sec­tor cat­e­gory for ex­cel­lence in re­cruit­ment, vi­sion and lead­er­ship and other key at­tributes.

Bel­lis­simo, who worked in both the pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tors prior to join­ing CAMH, was al­most im­me­di­ately struck by how in­clu­sive and unique its em­ploy­ees and cul­ture were when com­pared to other or­ga­ni­za­tions.

On her se­cond day with the or­ga­ni­za­tion, at­tend­ing a new em­ployee ori­en­ta­tion meet­ing, she was struck by how open and in­clu­sive her new col­leagues were.

“I sat in the back of the room as the new VP, not want­ing to in­tim­i­date any­one, and through­out the day peo­ple stood up and self­i­den­ti­fied as hav­ing some form of ad­dic­tion or men­tal ill­ness in their fam­ily, or open­ness around sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.

“I sat at the back of the room and said to my­self, ‘ This is not hap­pen­ing any­where else, at any other place of em­ploy­ment.’ ”

The strong tra­di­tion of CAMH em­ploy­ees openly shar­ing their lived ex­pe­ri­ences, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, eth­nic and so­cial back­grounds and dis­ad­van­tages “and re­ally hon­our­ing those dif­fer­ences,” has cre­ated a level of in­clu­siv­ity and an “in­ter­est in be­ing part of a cause,” she ex­plains.

Is­sues around men­tal health are still strange and baf­fling to a large seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion, which has also strength­ened and molded the award- win­ning cul­ture at CAMH.

“Un­like other em­ploy­ers, ‘ Driv­ing so­cial change’ is one of CAMH’s cor­po­rate strate­gic di­rec­tions,” says Bel­lis­simo. “There is still great stigma around men­tal ill­ness and ad­dic­tion in this coun­try and this prov­ince. It is in­spir­ing to be part of a cause and I think that is a real mo­ti­va­tor for peo­ple.”

There are signs that things are chang­ing for the bet­ter, how­ever. The On­tario govern­ment has run an ad cam­paign to ed­u­cate work­ers about men­tal health in the work­place and re­cently an­nounced a cam­paign to help first re­spon­ders deal with the ef­fects of post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der. Pri­vate com­pa­nies such as Bell Canada, with its Let’s Talk Day cam­paign, are also tack­ling the stigma around men­tal health is­sues. CAMH’s com­mit­ment to rais­ing pub­lic aware­ness of men­tal health is part of the hos­pi­tal’s cul­ture; the CAMH Foun­da­tion hosts the pres­ti­gious Trans­form­ing Lives Awards to cel­e­brate in­spir­ing in­di­vid­u­als who help change at­ti­tudes. A newer CAMH Foun­da­tion ini­tia­tive, One Brave Night for Men- tal Health, chal­lenges the coun­try to stay up all night in sup­port of those liv­ing with men­tal ill­ness; at dawn par­tic­i­pants post their sun­rise self­ies to stand in sup­port of those liv­ing with men­tal ill­ness.

Still, there is a long way to go, and or­ga­ni­za­tions such as CAMH will con­tinue to take the lead as prej­u­dice and dis­crim­i­na­tion per­sists. “We’re still not there yet,” says Bel­lis­simo.

She cred­its the de­vel­op­ment and nur­tur­ing of CAMH’s out­stand­ing cor­po­rate cul­ture first and fore­most to the lead­er­ship from the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, Dr. Cather­ine Zahn. “She is a vi­sion­ary leader who is re­ally trans­form­ing CAMH.”

Zahn has led the tran­si­tion of CAMH from “a cus- to­dial care model to a re­cov­ery- based model of care” and be­lieves “that ev­ery­one who touches men­tal ill­ness will be­come an ad­vo­cate,” ex­plains Bel­lis­simo.

“Those kinds of mes­sages, that she reg­u­larly de­liv­ers, and her re­lent­less ad­vo­cacy for this com­mu­nity, re­ally sets the pace for why we are be­com­ing the cul­ture that we are.”

Be­yond strong lead­er­ship at the top, CAMH has cre­ated a wealth of pro­grams for em­ploy­ees that sup­port and pro­mote its in­clu­sive cul­ture. One is its Em­ploy­ment Works! pro­gram, which pro­motes the hir­ing of those with “lived ex­pe­ri­ence.” That might in­clude in­di­vid­u­als who have spent time in hos­pi­tal or have re­cov­ered from a men­tal ill­ness, and would have the blank spots in their re­sume that would make more tra­di­tional em­ploy­ers wary.

As well, in­di­vid­u­als with lived ex­pe­ri­ence can be hired into the new role of peer sup­port worker and serve to sup­port CAMH pa­tients. “Who bet­ter to help our pa­tients man­age through their men­tal ill­ness than some­one who has ac­tu­ally had first­hand ex­pe­ri­ence do­ing that? They are in­stru­men­tal in help­ing us to achieve re­cov­ery-based care.”

As part of CAMH’s larger ef­fort to raise aware­ness of men­tal health and ad­dic­tion is­sues and change pub­lic at­ti­tudes, CAMH also in­tro­duced a cor­po­rate vol­un­teer pro­gram that hosted 108 cor­po­rate vol­un­teer events that at­tracted more than 923 cor­po­rate vol­un­teers to the hos­pi­tal in 2015.

“We have been pro­vid­ing this for sev­eral years to or­ga­ni­za­tions who want their em­ploy­ees to have a valu­able vol­un­teer ex­pe­ri­ence. Many em­ploy­ers now give their em­ploy­ees a day off to vol­un­teer and most, frankly, want to be do­ing some­thing mean­ing­ful. We have cre­ated op­por­tu­ni­ties for groups of em­ploy­ees to come in and spend an af­ter­noon with our pa­tients.”

Those ex­pe­ri­ences run the gamut from as­sist­ing in the gym to gar­den­ing or par­tic­i­pat­ing in ther­a­peu­tic arts and craft classes. “Th­ese are won­der­ful feel-good ex­pe­ri­ences. Many of the or­ga­ni­za­tions that come in come in of­ten, four or five times a year. It re­ally gives peo­ple an op­por­tu­nity to have first- hand ex­pe­ri­ence with those with men­tal ill­ness and ad­dic­tion and de- mys­ti­fies some of the pre­con­ceived no­tions or fears they might have.”

CAMH has also cre­ated a “change agent se­ries,” en­cour­ag­ing em­ploy­ees to share their own per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences, rang­ing from men­tal health and ad­dic­tion to be­ing a refugee that are pub­lished in­ter­nally.

UN­LIKE OTHER EM­PLOY­ERS, ‘DRIV­ING SO­CIAL CHANGE’ IS ONE OF CAMH’S COR­PO­RATE STRATE­GIC DI­REC­TIONS. THERE IS STILL GREAT STIGMA AROUND MEN­TAL ILL­NESS AND AD­DIC­TION IN THIS COUN­TRY AND THIS PROV­INCE. IT IS IN­SPIR­ING TO BE PART OF A CAUSE AND I THINK IT IS A REAL MO­TI­VA­TOR FOR PEO­PLE — KIM BEL­LIS­SIMO, CAMH VICE-PRES­I­DENT OF HU­MAN RE­SOURCES AND OR­GA­NI­ZA­TIONAL DE­VEL­OP­MENT

MARTA IWANEK FOR NA­TIONAL POST

In her early days at CAMH, Kim Bel­lis­simo was im­me­di­ately struck by the level of

em­ployee in­clu­sion in­grained in the op­er­a­tion.

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