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Fighting hunger
Proud to support Winnipeg Harvest

February 18, 2019

Six days a week, fifteen Winnipeg Harvest trucks gather donated, quality food from retail partners. Collectively, they make nearly 1,000 pickups a month, distributing food to over 400 agencies across the province.

These donations, supplied by generous shoppers and waste-conscious retailers, make up a large portion of the food that Winnipeg Harvest receives and serves to the nearly 64,000 Manitobans that rely on food banks every month.

The food that shoppers donate to store bins is vital, says Winnipeg Harvest CEO Keren Taylor-Hughes. "That's a big part of how we have food to distribute," she says.

But the need for food is growing. From 2008 to 2016, Manitoba's food bank usage grew 53 per cent. Over 40 per cent of those served are children. With an increasing need for more food banks around the city, Winnipeg Harvest faces a higher demand for food deliveries.

To help ease this demand, Manitoba Blue Cross has sponsored a new food delivery truck, the sixteenth in the fleet. We are pleased that the truck is now on the road, and we're able to help fight hunger one delivery at a time.

"Having a new vehicle makes a huge difference to us," says Taylor-Hughes. "We try to maximize our routes and leverage all the resources we have. But sometimes we just need another vehicle to ensure we can get to food banks on time."

While the truck is our latest contribution, Manitoba Blue Cross has been supporting Winnipeg Harvest for years. Since 2015, we've participated in Grow-A-Row, growing food on our rooftop and donating around 100 pounds each year.

We also donated 500 pounds of food during last spring's food drive, and we supported last fall's Empty Bowls Soup-er Lunch.

But while food donations are critical, Winnipeg Harvest couldn't operate without committed volunteers.

In 2017, volunteers donated 166,245 hours of their time – equivalent to 80 full-time jobs. They do everything from driving trucks to sorting food to coordinating events.

"Whether you're four or ninety-four, there's always a role, says Taylor-Hughes. "That's the beautiful thing about Harvest – everyone can help."

Last year these volunteers helped Winnipeg Harvest move over 11 million pounds of food – the equivalent of around one thousand African elephants.

But Winnipeg Harvest's role doesn't end there, says Taylor-Hughes.

"We're much more than a food bank," she says. "Our number one business is collecting and distributing food, but we really try to train and empower people to get them back into the workforce."

Winnipeg Harvest's continually expanding training programs include custodial, customer service, warehouse and kitchen skills. By the time a client is finished an approximately two-month program, they're prepared to look for work at one of Harvest's large retail partners.

It's another way for Winnipeg Harvest to accomplish their ultimate vision – a community that no longer requires the services of a food bank.

To learn more about Winnipeg Harvest – including how to donate food, money or your time, visit Winnipeg Harvest's website.

Talking to a professional
February is Psychology Month

February 11, 2019

More people with mental health concerns are getting professional help, a 2018 survey says.

The 4th Annual Canadian Mental Health Checkup, conducted by Ipsos, measured Canadians' mental health and attitudes toward mental health.

With February being Psychology Month, we spoke to a psychologist in our Assistance Program about talking to a professional.

"We all sometimes need a little help," says Dr. Leigh Quesnel. A clinical psychologist, Dr. Leigh specializes in psychotherapy and workplace issues.

While we used to think of mental health and physical health as independent from one another, they're actually inseparable, Dr. Leigh says.

"Mental health is health," he adds.

"Your mind has a significant impact on your body's functioning, and in turn, your body's functioning has a significant impact on the mind," he says. "Psychologists are as significant to health as physical health caregivers."

Sixteen per cent of Canadians surveyed said they spoke to a professional (a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist) about their mental health in the past year. This is the same percentage as 2017, but it's five per cent higher than in 2015.

"The stigma is reduced in many, many respects," Dr. Leigh says.

Forty-five per cent of Canadians said they're more comfortable discussing mental health now than two years ago, according to the survey. And 57 per cent think Canadians as a whole are more comfortable speaking about mental health than years prior.

The trick to reducing the stigma is being more open about seeking help, says Dr. Leigh.

"We don't tell everyone we're seeing a physician, but we also don't hide the fact that we are seeing a physician," he says. "The stigma declines as we observe that more and more people are seeing psychologists."

While the stigma is shrinking, financial circumstance is still the largest obstacle, with 64 per cent of respondents reporting money is a problem when thinking about seeking help.

While professionals can be expensive, you may be able to access counselling as part of your Manitoba Blue Cross coverage.

We have an exclusive network of multidisciplinary providers located throughout the province, and we're the only health coverage provider to have an on-site Assistance Centre. Intake is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Counselling sessions are included in many group plans and several of our individual plans. To find out if you have Assistance Program coverage, visit mybluecross or talk to your plan administrator.

No matter the reason, some people may be wary or nervous to approach a professional.

"They should be far more afraid of living less fully than of visiting me or any other psychologist," says Dr. Leigh. "Do it scared and call it excitement."

And working through problems with a psychologist isn't easy, he adds.

"[People] should expect that any effort to improve oneself, to enhance the quality of one's life, to enhance one's wellbeing... will come with some challenges," he says. "It will come with an honest evaluation of where one is at, where one has been going, and what changes are needed, if any."

But while it can be difficult, getting help is worth it, Dr. Leigh says.

"It is, for the very most part, a very productive venture."

To learn more about our Assistance Program, visit our Employee Assistance page.

More than winter blues
Seasonal affective disorder

January 28, 2019

With chilling winds, drifting snow and dreary nights, it's easy to get the winter blues.

But while winter can be difficult for many of us, it can be even tougher for people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

What is seasonal affective disorder?

SAD is a type of seasonal depression that mostly occurs during the fall and winter months. However, it's also been known to affect some people during late spring and early summer.

The main symptom of SAD is a despairing mood that is present most of the day, occurs most days, lasts for more than two weeks and impairs daily life, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

They also list other symptoms, including:

  • Sleep problems
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Loss of interest in work, hobbies, people or sex
  • Withdrawal from social connections
  • Feeling useless, guilty, hopeless, pessimistic, or hard on oneself
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering and making decisions

In extreme cases, SAD can even cause suicidal thoughts and a loss of touch with reality.

People who are affected by SAD in the summer may experience different symptoms (e.g. insomnia instead of excess sleep).

What causes SAD?

While the cause of SAD is unconfirmed, one factor may be the brain's pineal gland. This gland secretes melatonin, a hormone that controls sleep.

When darkness hits, the pineal gland secretes melatonin to prepare us for sleep. When sunlight hits our eyes in the morning, the pineal gland stops secreting melatonin, preparing us for wakefulness.

Many Manitobans who have typical work or school hours wake up before the winter sun rises. This means that melatonin production takes longer to wind down. If you find it hard to wake up in the colder months, melatonin may be why.

Many of us are also confined indoors at school or work during daylight hours, which means we may lose exposure to direct sunlight for days at a time.

Among others, these factors contribute to the development of SAD. And you don't need to have had depression or other mental illnesses to be affected.

How is SAD treated?

Treatment is based on severity, but it typically involves light therapy. Patients sit next to full-spectrum white lights, which simulate sunlight.

Exercise is also recommended, and it's even more effective when combined with sunlight (for instance, using an exercise bike while next to a light box, or jogging outside on a lunch break).

In cases where symptoms are severe, antidepressant medication may be considered.

If you think you might have seasonal affective disorder, please consult a doctor.

To learn more about seasonal affective disorder, see the CAMH website.

Survey shows Canadians are confident in travel coverage

January 15, 2019

Canadians are confident in travel insurance and positive about their coverage experience, a recent survey says.

Ninety-three per cent of respondents that filed claims within the last year said their claims were either fully (71 per cent of respondents) or partially paid (22 per cent of respondents), reports Pollara Strategic Insights, the research firm behind the survey. Five per cent of claims were still being processed at survey time, while two per cent were denied.

This is consistent with numbers from 2015, the last time the survey was conducted.

"With the purchase of travel coverage comes the hope that it will never be needed," says Nikki Makar, Individual Benefits Consultant at Manitoba Blue Cross. "The reality is that unexpected injuries and illnesses do arise – and fortunately, we see that the vast majority of claims are paid and adjudicated in a timely manner."

Around one third of Canadians bought travel insurance in the past year, and nine per cent of those filed a claim, according to the survey.

Ninety-one per cent of claimants said they were satisfied with the overall claim experience.

"When clients buy the appropriate coverage, it makes sense that they'll be satisfied with their claim," Nikki says. "Working with our broker partners, we ensure customers are given the information and tools they need to purchase the appropriate coverage and if needed, to file a complete claim."

Canadians are also knowledgeable about what they're buying, the survey says. Eighty-nine per cent of respondents said they had at least a reasonable amount of knowledge of their policy's terms, and 83 per cent said they knew who to contact in the event of an emergency.

"Over the past few years, we've extended our efforts to ensure people are knowledgeable about their policies," says Nikki. "We are committed to working toward providing customers with as much information as possible so they can make informed decisions about their travel coverage before purchase, during the trip, and, if a claim is incurred, after the policy ends."

To learn more about Manitoba Blue Cross travel coverage, view our Travel Coverage Plans.