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Case Study: Mental Health First Aid at CGI

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Founded in 1976, CGI is among the largest IT and business consulting services firms in the world. Its workforce of more than 11,000 professionals in Canada serves clients across many industries, from financial services to government, health, telecommunications, energy, manufacturing, and retail.

Case Study Highlights

Started Mental Health First Aid Training: 2021
Consultants and Leaders Trained So Far: 120

CGI has its own health and well-being centre of expertise (CoE), called Oxygen, that is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The CoE is backed by a multi-disciplinary health team from around the world, whose mission is to help CGI and its consultants and professionals to adopt healthy living and working practices, as well as thrive and embrace a culture of well-being in the workplace. The Oxygen team promotes a safe physical, social, and psychological work environment and acts at both the individual and organizational level through programs, policies, and processes.

Mental Health in the Workplace

CGI began to prioritize mental health in 2015, primarily due to the growing recognition of the impact that mental health issues were having on its consultants and professionals, which ultimately resulted in increased healthcare costs. To mitigate these risks, CGI was one of the first Canadian organizations to become actively involved in supporting mental health in the workplace, as well as in the community, and is currently recognized as a leader in workplace well-being and mental wellness.

Marie-Soleil Ferland, Director of Health and Well-Being at CGI, explained: “We found that there was a lack of education and understanding surrounding the Mental Health Continuum . Poor mental health was seen as a disease rather than a common response to challenging situations. Mental health should instead be understood as an aspect of our overall health. It fluctuates in the same way as physical health changes over time. We identified that improving awareness was the first step we needed to take in order to reduce stigma and increase acceptance and compassion.”

Enter “Coffee Talks initiative” in 2015, a program designed to facilitate open dialogue about mental health among employees and leaders.

“There was an opportunity for all CGI offices across Canada to have open discussions around mental health among leaders and employees,” Ferland said. “There was a room booked in every office where consultants and leaders were invited to join the conversation.”

The triumph of Coffee Talks spurred CGI to introduce a range of programs between 2015 and 2020, including “Reducing Stigma,” “Reach Out and Talk,” and the “You’re Not Alone” campaigns.

Fast forwarding to the post-COVID-19 era, Joannie Martin-Lacasse, Health and Well-being Manager at CGI, spearheaded the Mental Health Champion Network and introduced Mental Health First Aid (MHFA).

The Mental Health Champion Network serves as CGI’s internal support network, fostering peer-to-peer exchanges and providing access to professional services.

MHFA, a program developed by The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), provides participants with the skills and tools they need to help a person who is developing a mental health problem, experiencing a mental health crisis, or a decline in their mental health.

“During that time, we predominantly focused on leadership training around mental health and psychological safety in our workplace,” said Martin-Lacasse.

Alongside MHFA, CGI has rolled out various initiatives during Mental Health Month over the past nine years. These include:

  • extending Mental Health Week throughout the month of May
  • offering stretching breaks, free yoga classes, and promoting mindfulness and relaxation techniques
  • hosting sessions, conferences, and guest speakers on various topics such as supporting youth mental health, suicide prevention, supporting someone who is struggling, leading with empathy, etc.
  • organizing panel discussions with CGI consultants and professionals who are open to share their personal mental health journey and experience(s)
  • enacting policies and a psychosocial risks mitigation program
  • enacting internal psychological safety interventions
  • offering a comprehensive Domestic and Family Violence support program;
  • supporting various internal affinity groups such as Women of CGI, neurodiverse employees, and Rainbow Alliance for the 2SLGBTQ+ community and allies
  • developing an internal recognition program linked with a donation to charities supporting mental health in the community.

“The key to our success at CGI was establishing a clear vision for the future of our in-house workplace mental health program,” Ferland explained. “Then we went step by step from de-stigmatization, to training, to increased support, and now we’re proud to be able to demonstrate quantifiable impacts and substantial savings.”

Why We Train Our Leaders in Mental Health First Aid

From prevention to successful reintegration, CGI’s mental health initiatives align with the Mental Health Continuum, ensuring holistic support for all employees.

Marie-Soleil shared insights into CGI’s approach, stating, “We have internal mental health interventions as well as external mental health supports that are offered to our employees depending on their needs and preferences.”

However, instituting an internal network of Mental Health First Aiders and MHFA training brought a unique set of challenges due to legal considerations.

“There were some questions from our executives on the implications and responsibilities that come with that type of certification,” she said. “There is a responsibility for the organization to make sure that we protect our employees that will act as mental health first aiders.”

Marie-Soleil stressed that mental health awareness, coupled with trained leaders, is crucial to maintaining the integrity of the system.

“If our leaders aren’t trained, it’s kind of a missing puzzle piece,” she explained. “You can try to reduce stigma around mental health challenges, but then if somebody acts on this training and reports stigmatizing behaviour to their leader, and the leader doesn’t know what to do, it’s just going to break the system again. The person who is trying to speak out against stigma is not going to trust the process. They would think: ‘I opened up to my leader, because this is what we were encouraged to do, but nothing happened’, or ‘I didn’t get any advice’, or ‘it wasn’t handled appropriately.’ So, you need the training and the support of management. Both are crucial for a complete and effective strategy.”

Results and Feedback

Thanks to the rigor and strategic vision of CGI’s mental health program, the organization is now seeing many positive indicators: lower mental health disability rates, healthcare cost savings, increased EAP referrals, and more.

“It pays off, but you need to be patient,” Marie-Soleil said. “You can’t just implement some actions and expect instant rewards. It could take 10 years, but you will see a positive impact in the long term.”

What the Future Holds

Marie-Soleil firmly advocates for legislation mandating MHFA training, mirroring the requirement for physical first aid in health and safety regulations.

“When we speak openly about mental health, there is a chance that people will be more inclined to talk about it and seek support,” said Marie-Soleil.

CGI remains steadfast in urging other organizations to adopt comprehensive mental health strategies. It also commits to the regular reskilling and recertification of every Mental Health First Aider every two years.

“The reality is that mental health challenges are more prevalent than physical issues in most workplaces,” said Marie-Soleil. “So why do we have to have a certain number of physical first aiders but not mental health first aiders? We believe in the future of Mental Health First Aid in the workplace, and we want to make sure that everyone takes it as seriously as we do.”

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