Getting real for Mental Health Week

two men in personal protective equipment standing in front of operations
From May 3 to 9, the Canadian Mental Health Association is recognizing the 70th annual Mental Health Week, with a focus on understanding emotions. This year’s theme is #GetReal About How You Feel.
Masking mental health issues is an ongoing problem for many people in our society, and one of these ‘silent crises’ is men’s mental health. Jeff Thompson, a mechanical coordinator at our Base Plant operations in Northern Alberta, embodies many stereotypes attributed to being masculine. He’s a provider, and a tough and hardworking former ‘roughneck’ in the oil field, but in early 2020 he realized something was off and that it was time to get real about what was going on in his life. 

Jeff noticed he was drinking a lot; he’d catch himself thinking about drinking when he shouldn’t be and hid his drinking from loved ones. It became exhausting. 

“I thought to myself ‘everyone keeps saying if you need help, ask’ so let’s see what they can do.”  He then spoke with others who had gone through a treatment program, and made the courageous decision to talk to his director at Suncor. “I didn’t know what was going to happen or if drinking was even the problem, but I knew I had to do something, so I jumped into the process with two feet.”

The treatment program included people from all walks of life and helped him access the tools and knowledge he needed to start recovery and move forward. “I used to measure success with a lot of external validation and material things. Now I realize success is being able to spend quality time with my family, learning and growing my knowledge by having mentors, and pursuing school and designations. I’m on a great path, and it’s all because I asked for help.”

Although everyone’s recovery process is different, for Jeff, Suncor’s confidential employee support service, the Employee and Family Assistance Program has been a critical piece to his progress. Suncor expanded the mental health and wellbeing resources available to its employees in 2020. This includes piloting on-site counselling (also available virtually) at our Base Plant facility, piloting  leadership training programs on mental health and hosting virtual Feel-Good Friday sessions. 

“I think of my counselling sessions as helping me steer the car. I know how to drive, i.e. what I want to talk about, but they guide me to learn and uncover what’s going on.” 

As many people find with counselling, it took time to find the right fit. “I’ve learned that having certain expectations around the counselling experience could easily lead to resentment. Unfortunately, I didn’t connect with the first couple of counsellors, but I kept trying. My current counsellor and I connect over the phone monthly. I realized that for me, speaking over the phone instead of in person, and giving them the time to learn about me is helpful to make progress,” says Jeff. 

Reading has also been an important tool for Jeff this past year. 

“In Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly she said, ‘there is no courage without vulnerability’ and that stuck with me. As a man I felt the stigma around being vulnerable and asking for help, and as it turns out, the best thing I ever did for myself was calling my director and doing just that.”

Mental Health Week aims to shift societal beliefs and perceptions about mental health. It helps promote behaviours and attitudes that foster well-being, support good mental health and create a culture of understanding and acceptance.