Getting more mindful about mental health
Athabasca University (AU) alumnus Derek Luk encourages health-care professionals to get more mindful about their mental health.
Luk was studying at AU while also working as a university mental-health coordinator. Hearing more and more about the potential benefits of mindfulness—consciously focusing attention on the present, through meditation and other practices—and wondered if it could also help reduce burnout in health-care practitioners.
That interest turned to urgency when a friend and colleague died by suicide. Something had to be done —and in 2014 he built on what he learned researching his MN thesis to found his company.
“I felt something was wrong with the system. Health-care professionals can experience high levels of stress and trauma. They’re confronted with issues that people don’t easily understand, like the fear of making an error, and dealing with death and loss,” he said. “But they don’t have the knowledge or coaching to be able to process it all. They take that trauma and stress home, and that can lead to self-soothing, and alcohol and substance abuse.”
Standardized organizational employee assistance or mental-health programs aren’t particularly effective for health-care practitioners, given their high-pressure jobs and variable work hours. Too often, what’s learned in a program isn’t sustainable.
Mimentra, on the other hand, offers in-person and digital mindfulness programs delivered through a custom-designed app. The approach offers flexibility and also builds organizational mental-health capacity by training in-house mental health champions. Companies grow a culture of mental well-being when those champions share their knowledge with colleagues.
Luk has developed an approach that resonates, which is evident in the funding he received during Mimentra’s early start-up (including from Startup Calgary, ATB Boostr’s changemaker competition and Alberta Innovates) and, most recently, with Luk being named one of the 2018 Top 40 Under 40 by Calgary’s Avenue Magazine.
The business-building journey hasn’t been easy, and Luk continues to expand his knowledge and refine his approach to delver the best outcomes. He does it in addition to his full-time role as Senior Education Consultant in Quality Improvement with Alberta Health Services.
“The more you persist on the path, you not only learn, you also find people to support you,” he said, crediting online learning at AU and support from thesis supervisor Dr. Caroline Park for building knowledge and insights that have proven invaluable.
“This is the key to mindfulness: how you deal with uncertainty and discomfort and doubt without being washed away,” he said. “Without mindfulness, I don’t think I would have had all of these opportunities.”