USJE member Shauna Burns-Thomson awarded for being a Champion of Mental Health

Congratulations to Shauna Burns-Thomson, a Correctional Program Officer, on receiving a 2022 Champions of Mental Health Award from the Canadian Institute for Public Safety Research and Treatment (CIPSRT).

To be considered a Champion, nominees were evaluated on the following criteria:

  • Impact on the mental health of their organization and community (i.e. changes or improvements they have been able to make);
  • Number of people positively affected by their mental health efforts;
  • Willingness to speak about their mental health journey;
  • Creation of innovative mental health resource and initiatives;
  • Creation of new training resources;
  • Commitment to decreasing mental health stigma; and
  • Activities as a peer supporter or member of a reintegration team.

This is the second year for this award and there were 168 nominations, out of which 20 recipients were chosen from across Canada.

Read on to learn about the great initiatives Shauna is making to improve mental health at her workplace.

When Shauna Burns joined Correctional Service Canada, she noticed her peers struggling, and many were burning out. Shauna’s background in mental health enabled her to see that the workplace was having a significant impact on the mental health of employees; this was especially noticeable during the COVID pandemic. When an opportunity became available to take on the EAP and CISM lead position, Shauna decided to step up. In her new role, Shauna found that many of her co-workers didn’t have the tools they needed to deal with the everyday situations they would encounter.

“Every incident you have, every stressor, or complication is like tossing a pebble into a backpack, and you don’t know at what point the backpack will break.”

Shauna found that while there were good programs in place, like CISM, they had become just a check box for management, and that attitude had trickled down to the staff. She found that when she reached out to offer support, it was shrugged off because the program had no weight; it was just something that had to be completed before you moved on. While Shauna knows it’s easy to pick out the negatives in the programs, she has worked on building trust with her fellow workers. She wants them to know when a peer shows up, they are committed to putting in the work to make sure employees are okay.

“When one person isn’t doing okay, we all suffer. You can stand by and be part of the problem pointing out all the ways there are issues, or you can choose to stand up and make a difference.”

Based on the three nominations she received for Champions of Mental Health, she is clearly making a difference in her organization. Her nominators also point out that Shauna’s work, which is vital for staff, has also been extended to inmates in need of support.

Shauna knows stigma towards mental health still exists in her organization. Many continue to believe that admitting the need for help is admitting to weakness. There are also several barriers to accessing mental health supports when people do decide to take time off to support their mental health. She says obstacles such as paperwork and reporting structures can feel overwhelming when you are just struggling to get out of bed.

Shauna is working hard to dispel the myth that those needing mental health support are weak, and instead works to make it easier for people to get help. One of her recommendations to employees is to use their benefits to regularly check in on their mental health so that they don’t reach a crisis point.

“You get an oil change in your car, right? You’re not waiting until your car is broken down on the side of the road to get it looked at; you want to be proactive.“

Shauna knows that there is still room for improvement, and she is committed to helping, going so far as to get a master’s degree in Psychology so she could begin counselling outside of her job. When she thinks about making improvements to mental health she says relationships are critical. Shauna believes you need connection, camaraderie, and community to be mentally healthy.

At CIPSRT, we are happy to support Shauna’s efforts by naming her a Champion of Mental Health.