For Mental Health Awareness Week we asked Steve Raper a few questions about how he’s navigating mental health during this pandemic season.
Steve Raper is the Vice-President Communications of Public Affairs for Northern Health and has been with the organization for almost 14 years. He previously worked for the College of New Caledonia and the University of Northern British Columbia. Born and raised in Prince George, Steve also had the opportunity to live all over Canada – and even in Montana for four years growing up (yay, Yellowstone fans!).
What do you enjoy most about being a professional communicator?
Steve: I like the opportunity to make a difference. Working in health it’s hard because you don’t always see the outcomes in real time. We’re talking about generational change in some of the things we’re doing like healthy eating or active living. We’re not the only lever in the conversation, but from time-to-time you do a campaign or initiative where you can actually see the difference in peoples’ behaviours and you can see some outcomes that are going to benefit both the individuals and population at large. That’s pretty rewarding when you find those tasks and those campaigns within the big context of communications for a health authority – so it’s those moments that make it really worthwhile.
We’re in the midst of a prolonged crisis and as a result many peoples’ mental health is suffering – I can imagine in the hospitals it’s probably a lot. Can you share some of the ways that Northern Health is supporting your communities during this time?
Steve: It’s really been a challenge. There are a lot of organizations that do work in that space and a collaborative approach is important in making that difference in the communities we serve.
And we work with rural and remote communities that don’t all have the services that you might find at a larger urban centre. So whether it’s virtual, through telephone or the web, how do we work with partners to create the space for the tools to engage people to address their mental health challenges or issues they might have?
Cross-sharing of information and doing some joint campaigns; we work closely with First Nations Health Authority, is important – a large percentage of our population is indigenous and it’s imperative on us to not only learn from the First Nations Health Authority and First Nations communities on how to communicate, but how we can together to do joint campaigns that will help us reach that population in a much more meaningful way – s it really comes down to using those partnerships that we have with our stakeholders.
Often times we get caught in the trap of trying to create new content, new websites or new information when really there’s a lot of good resources out there and sometimes less is more.
It’s not about Northern Health necessarily fronting or providing solutions, it’s about leveraging our channels, our relationships, and allowing other organizations to share the information and content they have because they have that connection to some of those communities or people, a better connection than we have The Canadian Mental Health Association or Schizophrenia Society, for example – they have great connections with their members, so how do we help them reach that population instead of trying to compete with them or replace them in that space;.
The other thing we have to do, of course, is go off the grid in the sense that it’s not all about technology.How we do we get into, for example, into community fire pits and some of those meeting spaces for marginalized people with printed or non-traditional resources that gets information to them and gets them connected to services where they can get more help or more assistance where they need it.
Looking at creative ways to do that and, again, we need to leverage our partners because we can’t get into those spaces as easily as they can, so how we work with them to make sure we are providing them with information they need; and that they are listening to the stakeholders they serve to get some feedback to us so that we can do a better job.
A lot of it is looking at what those organizations are doing and you amplify their message across your mediums as opposed to trying to compete with them. It’s easier work for everybody because you’re not duplicating things and not everyone’s trying to create some type of competing message in that space. We’re very well connected to our communities, how do we help our partners spread their message. That’s worked very well for us over the last 10 years.
Awesome. Do you have any tips on how to keep teams actively engaged and supported while working remotely?
Steve: We try to make it fun and it’s not always about the leadership taking the lead, it’s about your staff taking the lead and creating space for them to have some fun. There was one day it was Crazy Hat Day, and everyone showed up with a crazy hat on our Zoom call, so you have fun with it. I think you have to carve that space out and you have to build a culture where you have to recognize you’re working in a bit of a different space.
People use Zoom, we’re using Google and Teams quite a bit, there are all kinds of platforms to use and they’re effective. It doesn’t entirely replace some of the face-to-face, but in terms of the pandemic we’ve had to make some arrangements for people to work from home.
Some people will work from home and they will never come back, that’s the reality. Some will work on a model of shared workspace. Instead of coming week-to-week they will have a desk where they can swap out. And then there are some who are going to have modified schedules because of the school issues and things like that. But in terms of making it fun, yeah, you have to create the space to have some enjoyment.
I have always said you spend a third of your life at work. As leaders, it’s incumbent upon us to try and make things enjoyable for our staff and teams. That doesn’t mean you don’t work hard, you don’t have to meet your deliverables or anything like that, but there’s ways you can do that around giving people ownership off their jobs and to avoid micromanaging; you give people flexibility to ‘own’ their jobs, particularly in this pandemic world because you never know what personal stress is on people. Work stress is one thing but you layer that personal stress on people, and you need to try and enjoy those eight-hour days as best you can.
Totally. Okay, and what do you do to protect your own mental health?
Steve: I have a couple of hiking buddies and we probably hike five to 10 kilometers every other day around town. I follow the provincial health orders and guidelines, and this outdoor trail walking has probably kept me sane by getting outside four or five times a week into the fresh air. And I go to the gym four or five times a week.
Do you have any additional advice or recommendations on resources to support mental health for communicators?
Steve:. Don’t duplicate what’s already good. There’s immense wealth of information out there – in fact it’s almost overwhelming so it’s a matter of how do you help those organizations reach out.
How do you share where all that information is? A bigger challenge, finding what’s credible and what’s not credible. One of the things we try to do, and I think what we have as a health authority is credibility. is where we can link to those organizations. It gives people confidence that the information coming from those organizations is also credible. There’s credibility that comes with us and that’s the value we add to our partners. We can help stretch their reach and provide their resources.
The other thing I always tell my team is don’t just look in Canada. There are some fantastic resources around the world. The Aussies do extremely fun and engaging work – they push a threshold on creativity that we can’t necessarily get away with, there’s an edginess to their humour. For my team it’s about finding appropriate information with emotion, including humour, where we can make some of the material we push out more engaging.
Visit the IABC/BC Blog for more stories around mental health this week.