Canadian Underwriter

New P&C industry organization launches to support mental health

May 2, 2023   by David Gambrill

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Friends in the Industry Healing Together (FIHT) — a new industry not-for-profit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between people and mental health services — is looking for friends within Canada’s property and casualty insurance industry.

“I think there’s a big stigma around mental health and I believe FIHT is going to open doors for people to be able to talk about it, to be open about it with friends, and to reach out for help,” said founding friend Soula Tsakanikas of A.R.S. Assessment Rehabilitation Services Ltd. “I feel like there’s so many people suffering — one in three, statistics say.

“Hopefully [through FIHT], more people will get the help they need or seek help.”

What is FIHT?

FIHT’s mandate includes promoting awareness of mental health and raising funds from the P&C industry to distribute to local mental health charities within Canadian communities.

The non-profit, volunteer-based organization is up and running with a website and a social media presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. People who wish to volunteer can register through the website.

FIHT is inspired by the impulse to help people in the same way friends or family members might advocate for their loved ones.

Helping with mental health

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Seven of FIHT’s founding friends shared personal experiences with Canadian Underwriter Monday, at the opening of Mental Health Week, explaining how and why they banded together to “make a difference in the mental health crisis we are facing.”

One of the founding friends, Tammie Kip, director of claims, digital transformation at Allstate Canada, said she was motivated to act after years of trying to find support services for her son, who was suffering from a major depressive condition that took years to diagnose and treat.

Kip talked about how the condition led to her son being in a coma for three days; when he was discharged from hospital, she said, she didn’t receive so much as a pamphlet on how to try to get help. The experience left her wanting to help others who may be suffering from or supporting loved ones with mental health illnesses.

“One of the lyrics [in Pink’s song, F**kin’ Perfect] says, ‘Change the voices in your head, make them love you instead.’ It’s such a powerful lyric,” Kip said. “As soon as I heard it, I thought, ‘That’s exactly what we need to try and do, to help people change the voices in their head.’

“Over the past seven years [of helping her son], one of my favorite learnings is that we have two primal emotions, from which all others emanate — fear and love. Anger, self-deprecation, and sadness all emanate from fear. And then things like compassion, joy, and gratitude all emanate from love. When we can actually live in that emotion of love more than fear, then we’re well on our way to mental wellness.”

Another founding friend, Steve Del Greco, director, GTS at Crawford, said FIHT was created in part because people who are struggling with mental health sometimes don’t know what they are dealing with. They just know they don’t feel well.

“Sadly, they may be labelled as poor performers at work, when in fact they are really trying to overcome invisible mental health challenges. We only seem to be able to deal with health issues that can be picked up on an MRI or a blood test.”

Del Greco said he has a few friends who are dealing with mental health challenges, so it’s very close to home. “One of the things I will say about my friends who are dealing with it is, they have family members who are helping them,” he adds. “They are so lucky to have them because their family members are offering so much support, so much love, asking questions, getting answers, bringing them in the right directions, and not giving up.

“And I realize that there are a lot of people out there who aren’t so lucky, and they don’t have my two friends who are fighting for their family members.”

Hence, the creation of FIHT, which has multiple objectives. One is to educate people about mental health, including recognizing the warning signs.

Educating around mental health

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Georgiana Chen, national account manager at Xpera Risk Mitigation and Investigation, said she found herself in a position of trying to help family and friends several times, but to help, she needed to know more about mental health issues herself.

“There have been many times in my life when situations have been brought to my attention, and I didn’t know how to help,” Chen said. “I have so many close friends, family members as well, who haven’t been able to work and who have been on medication all their lives. I’ve never really known how to help, to be honest, and the inability to help itself is a mental struggle.

‘There are so many different diagnoses, from schizophrenia to post-traumatic stress disorder to depression. The list is so long. I think that if it’s something that’s not on top of the list, people dismiss it. They don’t realize that it falls under mental health, and so these people may not get the care they need.

“People are always battling something. It’s always around us, and everybody needs a hand. Everybody needs help, everybody can use a friend. And for me, that’s what’s important.”

Directing people to help

Becky Cameron, senior executive and head of claims in Canada for American International Group (AIG), joined FIHT to give people better access to community resources who can help.

“I joined FIHT because I truly believe that the insurance industry has the ability to get behind a great cause and create change, and change is definitely needed when it comes to the resources and support available for mental health,” Cameron said.

“On a personal level, many years ago, one of my family members was struggling with mental health and the journey to the care and support needed was overwhelming and frustrating. We were fortunate in that we had a positive outcome, but at the time I felt extremely lost and that it wasn’t something we could talk about openly. FIHT is hoping to change that and I am happy to be part of this group.”

What type of help does FIHT offer?

Founding friend Mini Kohli, vice president of Crawford Legal Services, says FIHT does not offer mental health services itself. Rather, it links people to grassroots organizations that have the expertise and the know-how to provide support. It also seeks to fundraise to help these local organizations, several of which may be struggling with capacity or staffing issues.

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“We’re offering a way to help raise money through the [Canadian P&C insurance] industry and funnel the funds to grassroots organizations that need more funding to help in the communities. We don’t know what we don’t know [about mental health], and so we’re constantly looking for those smaller organizations who are more connected to their local communities and where that funding is needed.”

FIHT’s inaugural fundraiser will be ‘Hike to Heal,” to be held on June 13. Proceeds of FIHT’s first event will go to the Canadian Mental Health Association (York/Simcoe Region) in support of keeping their “Mobyss” service on the road. Mobyss is Ontario’s first and only mobile walk-in health clinic for youth aged 12 to 25 years. It’s staffed by nurse practitioners, youth mental health workers, and peer support specialists who offer a number of services, including one-on-one counselling.

Future of FIHT

FIHT’s objective is to become a national volunteer organization, operating in much the same way as the P&C industry’s Women in Insurance Cancer Crusade (WICC). Local mental health fundraising initiatives are welcomed, and the starting initiative itself, the hike, is something intended to support fellowship, physical exercise, and mental wellness.

Community, networking, and fellowship is itself a means to promote mental wellness, observes Tim Boodram, senior vice president at the niche contracting services firm Nusens. Social interaction at work is not as present in people’s lives since remote work evolved out of the pandemic, he added.

“I think in the industry as a whole, especially since COVID, the dynamics of their jobs have changed,” said Boodram. “Because people are working from home and no longer have to go to the office, we’re losing that social interaction. People are slowly drifting away from their normal way of daily life. I think that’s created some external stresses, too, and put some people in a very dark space.

“For some people, working from home might work. But other people really require that social interaction; that’s a big part of their day. I think that’s definitely creating some issues with people within the industry.”

Those in the industry can certainly benefit from talking to their peers about the situations they face on a daily basis, FIHT’s founding friends say. Insurance professionals are constantly interacting with people who are facing intense crises, be it death, car accident injuries, damaged or destroyed homes or businesses. Talking to someone can be a way to externalize these stressors, as Chen observes.

“We all need an outlet,” she said. “We all need someone to hear us and to understand us as well.”

Whether personally struggling or supporting loved ones with mental health challenges, the journey is challenging enough, and no one should have to go it alone, Kip said. “FIHT is needed now more than ever, because let’s face it, at times, we could all use a friend.”


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