When I started Threads of Life, it was to provide support programs for family members living with the outcome of workplace life-altering injury, occupational diseases or outcomes of fatal injuries, such as the tragedy that our family is living with. I was very fortunate to have the support of so many organizations that understood the value that Threads of Life could bring to these family members.

What is didn’t likely consider along the way as Threads of Life grew was the mental health challenges that our board members, volunteers and staff deal with while we aim to provide those supports to family members.

We share a message with our volunteers and staff that they need to take care of themselves first in order to be able to provide support to others – similar to the message we give to our family members when they contact us and at each of our events. Recognize what you need to do to take care of your physical needs – move around, go for a walk, try to get enough sleep, eat good foods, etc. When we take care of the physical needs we also try to remind each other to take time for our mental health. At staff meetings we often reflect on what that kind of care looks like. Is it selfish as a caring organization to put our own needs first?

September always seems to bring a busy period of tasks and events into our workplace. We gather for our in-person staff meeting, board of directors’ meetings, last details for the two fall family forums and gearing up with our community volunteers to start the planning for the next year Steps for Life events. Our family forum planning is similar to planning a wedding, so many details. Some can be done ahead of time and that leaves some that can’t be done until the final week. Of course then there are the unexpected changes: perhaps cancellations or shuttles that need to be re-arranged or working with the venue on final details. Having 100 guests for the weekend is stressful and requires many hands. That, along with our own travel and arrangements at our home, often leave us as individuals seeming a little frazzled. Sometimes we need someone to remind us to step back and practice what we preach.

As a value-driven organization we can trust that someone on our team will remind us to take care of ourselves first. Our guiding values of Caring, Listening, Sharing, Respect, Health, and Passion have to exist within each staff member first, before we can do the work we do with our family members, our volunteers, our partners within our country. We have to remember to share with each other – step back, take a breath, only do one task at a time, get a glass of water, go for a short walk, debrief with each other. As a successful team we have found ways to support each other even while working in our remote home office environments. No easy feat and I believe we do it well. Wellness, both physical and emotional are on our monthly agendas and we remind each other regularly. We are here for each other and that means then we are prepared to handle a bad day or when things don’t quite go as we planned. We know we can reach out to one another for support, without judgement. We are a great team and that enables us to look out for and care for each other. We do that well and that enables us to provide support to family members living with these workplace tragedies, work with our volunteers as prevention ambassadors, our community partners, the volunteers who create so much needed awareness of workplace safety prevention with Steps for Life events. No one can do it alone; we each need a team who cares for each other.

Today is World Mental Health Day. I hope that you have a team around you to provide support just like our Threads of Life team, whether it’s your family, friends, neighbours, co-workers, or others. Think about who’s on your team, and don’t be afraid to reach out.

Shirley Hickman

Shirley Hickman is founder and executive director of Threads of Life. She has worked in nursing and social services, and is also a Threads of Life family member.
Shirley Hickman

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