Members gain resources and knowledge to support those struggling with mental health and addictions at EFAP Conference

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EFAP mega group

Unifor members gathered at the Family Education Centre in Port Elgin, Ont., for the Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) Conference centered around helping members recognize signs of mental health and addiction struggles in themselves and others, and equip them with resources and strategies to connect people with the support that they need.

Two women posing one is holing up a coloured rock

“As we learn more about mental health and addiction, about what works and what doesn’t, our union must evolve accordingly,” said Lana Payne, Unifor National President. “Person-centred conversations that recognize the inherent dignity of each individual, and our collective responsibility to lift one another up, are more important than ever. These conversations don’t start in parliament – they start in our workplaces and union. They’re carried by you. If we want to build a better world, we can do it by changing the conditions of work and that includes mental health support and prevention.”

The three-day conference agenda included immersive and hands-on components like Addiction Counselor Dean Anderson’s improvisation workshop, offering a unique exploration of how improv skills develop active listening skills, attune people to non-verbal communication and encourages people to embrace spontaneity, humour, and empathy.

Other sessions explored emotions, offering insight to how societal expectations can hinder an individual’s path to healing, and laid out how the 12-Step Model works, helping to remove some of the stigmas of addiction and how this popular model helps with recovery.

Three men stadning at the front of a room one is talking through a headset

“One in five Canadians will have a mental health issue this year and statistically, two thirds of these folks do not access help or support largely due to stigmas,” said Mike Byrne, Unifor National Representative and Mental Health Advocate. “As union reps, whether we have been aware of it or not, we are constantly dealing with people who are suffering and maybe even in crisis, so this conference is really about building awareness and educating ourselves so we can recognize the struggles sooner, offer better and more empathetic support, and take care of our own mental health as we do that work.”

As part of the Unifor 2022-2025 Action Plan, the union set bold goals to act on mental health initiatives and to dismantle stigmas that persist and prevent people from seeking support or recognizing struggles.

A women speaking at a mic

"Your work embodies what it means to be a trade unionist,” said Samia Hashi, Unifor Ontario Regional Director. “You make sure that no worker gets left behind. We need all hands on deck if we’re going to make life better for everyone.”

Some sessions were emotional and touched on deeply personal topics, so the event was also structured to provide supports for participants and provide them with opportunities to process, express feelings, take time to themselves, explore the beautiful nature at the centre, and use art as therapy.

A man in a hat holds up a yellow rock that reads, love yourself

The rock and canvass painting rooms were available to members throughout the conference as an outlet to offer inspiration to themselves and others. Delegates painted inspiration messages on rocks which were then placed in a rock garden at the Education Centre at the closing of the conference. 

“I’m proud of every person who took time to be here with us this weekend, and proud of my union for making mental health education and support a priority,” said Byrne. “Mental health is a union issue, and we are making it a normal thing to discuss at bargaining tables, in lunchrooms, and in boardrooms. No one is immune - every one of us needs tools to help others and to help ourselves.”