Canadians & Mental Health (Webinar Recap)

Optimity recently hosted a webinar on May 29 in honour of Mental Health Awareness Month. Our very own, Mira Levine and Brett MacDonald, who serve as Client Success Advisor and Wellness Coordinator respectively, were joined by Katie Worndl from MindBeacon Group to discuss the physical, financial, and economic impact of mental illness on Canada. We have provided the key takeaway points below but if you would like to watch the full webinar, click here.

The Big Picture

Mental health is classified as the psychological and emotional well-being of a person and affects individuals of all ages, ethnicities, and genders. According to The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, one in five Canadians will experience the disorder in their lifetime, making it the leading form of disability in the country. However, this figure jumps to 80% when accounting for those who are indirectly affected by a loved one with mental illness. To put it simply, mental health affects everyone in some shape or form.

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Factors & Symptoms

Although not everyone will develop mental illness after a traumatic incident, some factors that are known to increase the likelihood of mental illness include physical health status, family breakup/loss, and childhood abuse. Despite the severity of the aforementioned factors, the strength of one’s mental resilience and support group are the two things that for the most part, determine the end result.

Mental illness can be incredibly hard to spot, especially during its early stages. When looking for any possible signs, pay extra attention to any changes in eating and physical activity habits, a substantial change in energy levels, social isolation, delusion, alcohol or drug abuse, or even suicidal remarks.

Canadians & Mental Health

A form of mental illness or disorder exists throughout Canadians and its recognition has gained valuable traction. For the majority of the patients, mental illness affects relatively young individuals as research has shown that one in two Canadians will experience the disease before turning 40. Currently, 63% of the millennial population is deemed at “high risk” for mental health issues, a 10% increase from last year. For older generations who may be affected by mental health, the stigmatization that surrounds this topic may be a blocker for expression of their issues. The most alarming statistic states that two out of three Canadians suffering from mental health concerns do not seek treatment. This sufferance in silence has resulted in 4000 Canadians committing suicide, equivalent to 11 deaths per day.

Amongst the homeless, mental health has had a tremendous impact. In Canadian cities, 23-67% of the homeless population suffers from a mental illness. The inaccessibility to support is an example of a factor that amplifies this negative impact.

Financial & Physical Burden

The financial impact of mental illness on the economy is estimated at an astounding $51 billion. This translates to 500,000 employed Canadians having to take time off each week, which not only causes a loss in productivity but is also very expensive to treat. Treating a mental health condition is around 30% more expensive than other disorders.

Mental health is not only a problem that is evident in developed countries. The World Health Organization estimates that one in four people in the world will suffer from the disorder, but over 66% of countries currently spend less than 1% of their GDP on mental illness treatment. These countries still rely on large mental institutions which have been proven to be extremely ineffective. The poor in particular are at the greatest risk of developing mental illness, and in these cases, have no choice but to attend these institutions.

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Mental Health in the Workplace

In the workplace, mental health plays a vital role. The state of mind of a person will determine their productivity and their overall behaviour to be content in the workplace. Absenteeism and presenteeism are the ideal examples of this topic. In many situations, these two terms can apply to those that suffer from a mental health illness and they both directly result in $6.3 billion in lost productivity per year. Another common factor that affects mental health in the workplace is the competition and monthly benchmarks. The build-up of high anxiety and stress from the requirement to complete work can have a negative pressure on anyone. In turn, Canadian businesses are realizing that 30% of disability claims are due to mental health problems & 70% of disability costs are attributed to mental health issues.

As an economy as a whole, research by the conference board of Canada found that improved treatment for depression could boost the economy by $32.3 billion a year, as well as an increase to $17.3 billion a year for improved anxiety treatment.

Solutions

Improving mental health is never a sprint, it should be approached like a marathon. For improvements to be made, a person should take everything one step at a time. There is no perfect answer to resolve it directly, but there are a few ways to ensure that there are positive changes being made.

  • Seek help – are you trying to find support?
  • Nutrition – are you eating properly?
  • Exercise – are you staying active?
  • Workplace Strategies – 13 PSRs
  • Digital solution – Optimity & Beacon

Beacon provides digital therapy for guidance in overcoming mental health-related issues. This platform specializes in iCBT or internet-delivered Cognitive Behaviour Therapy to digitally provide access to a skills-building approach to therapy. Similar to CBT, you are able to grasp new skills to better manage your mental health concerns through modules, exercises and activities.   

Here at Optimity, we focus on prevention and early detection of mental health issues. We recognize that improving mental health is never a sprint, but a marathon. Getting rid of bad habits and replacing them with positive ones from your daily lifestyle is never an easy task. That is why our wellness platform is focused on making the whole process fun and rewarding! Our library is filled with thousands of micro-activities, ranging from mindful breathing to stretching exercises, that aim to increase self-esteem and overall mental health.

Does Physical Activity have an Impact on your Mental Health or is it just a Myth? 

Written by Turja Chowdury 

It’s not a surprise that exercise helps to reduce several health risks, but is it all talk or is there truly science behind it all? Exercising in any form can have tremendous impact on your mental health and this does not mean that you need to be a gym fanatic to receive the benefits.

By staying active, you are giving your body the chance to become stronger and combat the issues that may come your way. There are countless ways that exercise can profit your mental well-being and here are a few:

  • Decreases Depression
  • Reduces signs & symptoms of postnatal depression
  • Improves self-esteem & cognitive function in young people
  • Reduces psychological distress

In recent years, mental health is a topic that has gained enormous traction because of its valued importance. We have begun to acknowledge the value of mental health and its correlation to our overall health.  The issues that arise from the psychological and emotional well-being can be caused by several factors depending on the person. This means that everyone has their own battles in life and we constantly seek ways to adapt and reduce the issues that may arise. This is why we search for the kryptonite.

Let’s make it clear that it isn’t easy – especially if you’re not an active person. But the first step is always the hardest, so you have to trust the process. Exercise will help to shrink the negativity and give you the strength to develop. But the question remains – where’s the science and how much exercise are we talking?

Physical activity has a direct relationship with the brain as it improves neuronal health, increases neurotrophic factors and neurohormones – an overall boost to the brain. These positive changes lead to improvement in your mood, self-acceptance and many more. The body will gladly accept the increase in dopamine – a neurotransmitter and hormone. This increase is only unique to you and your happiness, so your brain will understand when you’re physically active and how to react to it.

The amount of exercise depends on you and your personal goals. It’s up to you to decide the activity you want to do and how you want to approach it. However, its crucial to show up. Consistency of your physical activity can guarantee that positive benefits are extended throughout your journey.

Optimity understands the value of mental health and we want to encourage personal growth. Engage in your community by posting your workouts and meals, track your progress over the weeks and gain rewards for your accomplishments.

Establishing New Habits can be difficult and lengthy. However, small lifestyle changes and being persistent with your goals can have the biggest positive impact on your health. Reach out to us at engage@myoptimity.com for information on how Optimity can help you!

Food for Thought: The Link Between Food and Mental Health

Written by Maxwell Li 

Your brain works around the clock to perform vital bodily functions to keep you alive. Similar to a sports car, our brains require constant premium fuel, in the form of nutrients from food for peak performance and in turn, good mental health.

The reason behind this lies in Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates sleep, appetite, mood, and pain. Around 95% of its production takes place in your gastrointestinal tract, which happens to be filled with over a hundred million neurons. Furthermore, neuron functionality along with serotonin production are highly dependent on the presence of “good bacteria” in the gut. These bacteria protect your intestinal linings against toxins and inflammation, improve nutrient absorption, and activate direct neural pathways to your brain.

In short, the types of food you choose to eat have a profound impact on your short-term mental health!

A study conducted by flagship medical journal, BMC Medicine, found that depressed individuals assigned to a Mediterranean diet experienced substantial improvements to personal mental health. This is because “traditional” diets (e.g. Mediterranean) are high in unprocessed vegetables, fruits, proteins, and grains, which tend to be fermented and thereby promote growth of “good bacteria” in the gut.

Here are five nutrient-rich foods that will do wonders when it comes to improving your mental health:

1. Salmon

This pink fish is rich in Omega-3 and anti-inflammatory acids that protect brain cell membrane. It also contains Vitamin D, which helps manage depression and protect immune function.

2. Lentils

Lentils are rich in the B vitamin folate which is vital in the production of serotonin. They also allow your blood sugar levels to rise more gradually, for a consistent energy level throughout the day.

3. Bananas

Bananas affects tryptophan, another important amino acid that helps with serotonin production.

4. Kefir

Often described as a drinkable yogurt, Kefir is high in the “good gut bacteria”, more commonly known as probiotics.

5. Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes contain high levels of the antioxidant beta-carotene, which protects against damage to brain cells and oxidative stress on DNA. Both processes have been linked to depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

 

Here at Optimity, we recognize that a sudden dietary change is painful and often short-lived. That is why we have created a way to pursue a healthier lifestyle at the office or on the go, that is both effortless and rewarding for our users, through personalized daily health challenges!

 

To find out more about Optimity solutions, visit: www.myoptimity.com/our-solution

Recharge Your Diet: Our Secrets for a Healthy Lifestyle

TIME STAMP: 3 MINUTE READ

It seems like everyone’s talking about the real solution to weight loss. Every day it seems like a new diet craze is ready to make weight loss faster and easier than ever before. However, beware most fad diets generally go something like: “Take a few foods, give them magic power, and set a plan to convince people that eating this way and only this way will promote weight loss.” says Alexandra Caspero, R.D a nutritionist based in Sacremento, CA.

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In a society that is so image driven, it seems as though everyone’s talking about it, “THE secrets to get that summer body.” If you searched online for weight loss solutions you get 38 million results. How is anyone supposed to find the real solution? With this overwhelming amount of information it can be extremely difficult to get started on achieving your goals.

We’re here to help you debunk the 3 most searched for diets and discover whether or not they’re really worth it.

1. 20/20 Diet 

The Claim: Wait Doctor Phil? You have the answers to all of my life problems and now you want to help me loose weight? Even though he doesn’t promise you’ll loose weight, he says you “may” loose weight.

The 20/20 diet is a cycling diet plan and was online most searched diet of the year. It’s a 30-day cycling diet, with three phases every 30 days. The first two phases are 5 days long and the third is 20 days. The foods Doctor Phil recommends are supposed to help with thermogenesis, which is a state where the process of energy production in the body caused directly by the metabolizing of food consumed.

The 20/20 diet is about looking past your dieting efforts, failed attempts and what you can do to make up for it. He is trying to repent you from your dieting sins and tell you all of these failures are what eventually led him to create this plan.

Worth It? This diet requires you to stick to a rigid meal plan and eat every 4 hours, which could be time consuming. Be weary, of diets that have a start and stop date, after all there are no phases or end dates to a healthy lifestyle.

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2. Zero Belly Diet 

Wait but actually? Trying to take away my carbs? Sounds like a nightmare. They’re also telling readers they can magically turn off their fat genes.

The Claim: You can lose up to 16 pounds in 14 days. This diet and fitness program includes a list of nine foods that supposedly target and melt your fat cells.

Worth it? There is no way to turn off your genes to fast track weight loss. While hundreds of genes affect your overall weight in small ways, this isn’t to say that you can’t learn new healthy behaviors to adapt your lifestyle.

3.Mediterranean diet

This diet emphasizes a primarily plant based foods including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, seafood and nuts – coupled with physical activity. It suggests avoiding a list of unhealthy foods and ingredients such as processed food and added sugars.

The Claim: This diet will help you eat your way to optimal heart and brain health. Additionally it claims increased longevity and living a longer and healthier life. When there is a reduction in developing heart disease or cancer, there is a 20 %reduced risk of death at any age.

Worth it? YES, this diet can have positive long-term effects on your over all health. Benefits include keeping you agile, preventing heart diseases and strokes and reducing Alzheimers.

Don’t be too hard on yourself; life is demanding. Between jobs, kids and everything else, life can get difficult. Give yourself a break, dieting shouldn’t be about extreme weight loss, it should be about slow and steady implementation of healthier habits that will lead to an over all healthier lifestyle.

Sign up here to start leading a healthier life and claiming rewards!

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How to Build Healthy Habits for a Healthy New Year (Webinar Recap)

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We had a great webinar in January, in honour of New Year’s Resolutions. I sat down with Optimity’s Client Success Advisor, Mira Levine, to talk about how to promote healthy habits in the New Year. You can watch the full webinar here. Here are a few key takeaway points from the webinar:

Understanding why we do what we do and how habits are formed through The Habit Loop:
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  • 45% of our everyday habits are automatic. You are the sum of your habits.
  • Optimity can help you establish new healthy habits through micro activities and reminders.

 

 

 

It’s essential to understand that bad habits can be broken by making small behaviour changes. See what can you do to break those habits:

The 4 step process

  1. Identify the routine: The routine is the habit you want to change. It can be action that can be mental, physical, or emotional.
  2. Experiment with rewards: Rewards can be powerful because they satisfy our cravings. To figure out which cravings are driving out habit, we have to experiment with different rewards.
  3. Isolate the cue: The cue is anything that triggers the habit and causes your brain to go into automatic mode. A cue can originate from: a location, a time, an emotional state, other people, or an immediate preceding action. Discovering what triggers your habit is an important step.
  4. Have a plan: Once we’ve uncovered what our cue is, identified our routine, and discovered which reward satisfies our craving, we can write down a new plan for when that cue quicks in that we will adopt as a new habit.

 

SMART Goals

  • Specific, Measurable, Attainable, and Time-Based goals
  • Ask yourself these questions if you can’t stick to your New Year’s resolution:
    • Is my goal specific enough?
    • Is my goal attainable?
    • Do I have ways to track my progress?
    • Do I have a plan to deal with things that’ll stop me?
  • If you’re looking for more info on how to stick to your New Year’s resolutions, check out our blog post here.

 

Establishing New Habits can be difficult and lengthy. However, small lifestyle changes and being persistent with your goals can have the biggest positive impact on your health. Reach out to us at engage@myoptimity.com for information on how Optimity can help you!

How to Handle Escalating Employee Health Costs

Posted by Jane Wang 

Employee benefits in the workplace are becoming increasingly costly for employers in North America. In the US, according to the 2015 Kaiser and HRET survey: The average premium for single coverage is $521 per month, or $6,251 per year. The average premium for family coverage is $1,462 per month or $17,545 per year. Based on the Conference Board of Canada’s latest benefits benchmarking report, the average cost of providing employee benefits is $8,330 per full-time employee. For the average company, this equates to spending approximately 10% of gross annual payroll.

Businesses are experiencing the reality of the aging workforce, and burden on their profitability from the continuously rising health premiums, cases of stress leave as well as increased absenteeism from their employee population. Year after year, CFOs continue to see increased business costs as the result of poor employee health and habits, but some are reluctant to revisit the funding and strategy of current health and wellness programs because most wellness programs cannot report ROI.

This is changing.  More data-driven and evidence-based wellness programs like Optimity are able to provide sound financial analysis for the reasons driving these changes in business costs, as a direct results of strategic wellness programs. A strong business case can now be made to invest in proactive health programs. The ROI can be realized quickly and certainly for these cost-effective, digital-first programs that support the employees in making smarter choices everyday, because it always leads to better health outcomes.

 

Innovative and employee-centric businesses who are changing their processes and opting into data-driven and evidence-based wellness programs, are benefiting both from a happy shift in culture (which helps their HR department recruit and retain talent easier), and are saving up to $6.50 for every $1 spent on wellness by implementing a sound cost-containment strategy that flattens the year over year cost increases of their employee benefits costs.

Unhealthy employees cost businesses more every year. According to Linda Lulli, Associate Vice President for Human Resources at Bryant University in Smithfield, R.I., an inactive person spends $1,500 extra on health costs per year. However, the costs go beyond the direct health spends, they also manifest themselves in the 9.3 days of absenteeism and 10% increase in drug claims. One in 6 U.S. adults reported taking a psychiatric drug, such as an antidepressant or a sedative, a new study found (read more). The goal of any wellness program is for employees to become healthier, and when they become healthier they end up spending less for doctors, hospitals and prescription drugs, says Paul Sollitto, Chief Financial Officer at EngagementHealth.

 

A recent study by Willis Towers Watson found that the primary driver for nearly half (44%) of companies with employee benefits is to control and improve their claims data to help with ongoing cost management. This is up from a quarter (24%) in last year’s study. Mark Cook, Director at Willis Towers Watson said, “There has been a clear evolution in the rationale for companies to include employee benefits in their cost management strategies. The initial motivation is often the simple desire to save money on the ever increasing cost of providing employee benefits.”

 

This is why digital based programs are becoming so popular. Digital based apps are scalable, sustainable, great personalized tools for working professionals to improve their quality of life. They are able to deliver content and able to coach behaviors to employees who work from home, on the road, and have different needs.

These digital-first wellness programs and apps when infused with evidence-based science and learn-action-test pathways have proven to positivey impact health outcomes and stabilize costs for employers. We simplify the process to start their personalized journeys: employees can easily download our health and wellness apps that not only provides a personal space for them to schedule and track their progress, but also has the ability to provide the critical data analysis that can help to tailor a more complex program.

 

Follow us on twitter to stay current on the top cost-containment wellness strategies.

For more information on Optimity, evidence-based wellness strategies, or to schedule a demonstration, visit www.myoptimity.com

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About Optimity
We believes in 3 things: living well should be easy, energizing and fun; small actions can go a long way in leading you to success; and a culture of health is imperative to highly productive teams.

Working with physicians, trainers, nutritionists, and researchers, Optimity mindfully connects you with your habits on day to day making it fun to engage in self-improvement and self-actualization regularly. Optimity has created a way to make choosing a healthier way of life at the office and on the go both effortless and rewarding, by providing our users with personalized daily health challenges.

Our mobile apps are THE wellness-optimizing tool working to turn office potatoes into corporate athletes. To find out more about Optimity solutions, visit: www.myoptimity.com

2-Minute Meditation for a Positive Attitude

Meditation

Posted by Abena Osei-Kwabena

From cultivating greater awareness of self to relieving stress, meditation has numerous physical and mental health benefits. The practice conjures a sense of something related to spirituality, but is actually an extreme form of concentration that tones and strengthens the mind. It promises to promote inner peace and a positive outlook towards life.

Given the countless problems that work and life hurl at us on a daily basis, and the impact they have on our minds, meditation can be an excellent way to appreciate promote inner peace and living in the moment. Even a few minutes of meditation regularly can be transformative. Here is a 2-minute meditation routine for beginners.

  1. First, find a quiet and peaceful place in your home or outside, where it is easy for you to shift your focus inwards. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine in a straight but relaxed position. When you sit in a peaceful space with good posture, you will be able to enjoy the process more freely and have a deeper sense of calmness and tranquillity.
  2. Concentrate on your breathing. Try to take long and deep breaths while you focus on slowing down your breath. You can also chant an uplifting phrase or word like “relax” while breathing in order to center your attention. Try to block all distracting sounds, paying full attention to your your breathing and the word you are chanting.
  3. Next, try to enter into a quiet state of mind, while remaining relaxed and mindful of your centre of gravity. Observe any feelings, thoughts, or physical vibrations that arise in your consciousness. Eventually, you will be able increase your concentration one session at a time.

There is no set time to meditate, so you can start with 2 minutes daily and progress slowly. Let your comfort level decide what amount of meditation is right for you, but stay persistent in order to witness results.
Abena is a Client Services Associate at Optimity. She graduated from the University of Toronto with a BSc in Global Health. She is passionate about human rights and health education, and hopes to develop tailored interventions to combat health inequities around the globe. Her interests include story writing, camping and exploring different cultures on her travels.

 

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