Toronto sheet metal workers get SMART MAP mental health training

The Member Assistance Program operated by the Sheet Metal Occupational Health Institute Trust (SMOHIT), known as SMART MAP, has been providing mental health sessions for more than a decade to members of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation (SMART) workers and their families. To combat the high suicide and substance use disorder rates among construction workers, participants in the session become SMART MAP mentors, as they learn to be mental health first responders, peer counselors able to lend a listening ear and guide SMART members to local resources.

With some help from Patricia Pike, a Canadian-American dual citizen and CEO and founder CanAm Interventions, the SMART MAP session held in Toronto March 26-28 provided a tailored presentation. While Canadian members have been included in SMART MAP sessions in the past, due to the pandemic, a session hadn’t made its way north since 2018.

“Since we’ve been doing education and training through SMART MAP the last 10 years or so, we’ve had Canadian members attend regular SMART MAP sessions,” said Chris Carlough, SMOHIT SMART MAP coordinator. “It’s not brand new, but the program we delivered this time was specifically designed for Canada.”

The key to a successful SMART MAP mental health session is a group of participants willing to share their experiences and engage with the speakers. The Toronto class was full with a long waitlist within 18 hours of the registration opening. Due to this demand, SMOHIT allowed 57 members to attend the course, nearly double the size of a normal session. Despite this large number, all involved reported the session retained the intimate, honest atmosphere necessary.

SMART MAP mental health sessions are typically held for local leadership, and the SMART MAP team also presents a peer-to-peer session for rank-and-file members. In July, they will be back in Toronto to impart skills and mental health knowledge to members of SMART Local 285.

The combination of mental health sessions for leadership and peer-to-peer trainings for rank-and-file members helps bring awareness of mental health and substance use disorder to the entire local, from the top down, Carlough said.

“In the mental health trainings, we’re talking to people in the room directly,” Carlough said. “But we’re also talking about the people who they’re going to go back and help in their local unions.”

The success of the session is measured in the knowledge and skills gained and how members use that knowledge. During this session, members developed the confidence to talk about difficult subjects, see different perspectives on addiction, and understand the true definition of self-care and useful statistics, according to post-event evaluations.

“Everything covered during this session has been well worth it,” said one member. “I want to thank the team for all the work you do and help that was given to me.” Another reported being eager to put their gained knowledge to use immediately.

Jointly sponsored by SMART and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association (SMACNA), SMOHIT was founded in 1986 to address the impact of decades-long asbestos exposure on those working in the sheet metal industry.

Today, SMOHIT’s mission has broadened to include the total health of its members. By providing industry-leading physical, mental and emotional health and safety solutions, SMOHIT strives to minimize occupational illnesses, address mental health and substance use disorder in the industry, prevent injuries among sheet metal craftspeople and provide diet, exercise and other lifestyle information to address the health and wellness of union members and contractors.

For more information on SMOHIT or SMART MAP, visit smohit.org or call 703-739-7130.

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