Winnipeg company TelPay was dubbed a hero for mental health on Thursday, after the Canadian Mental Health Association singled out the company for its work with an employee who needed help.  

The association held its annual award ceremony for its Winnipeg chapter at noon, recognizing people in the community who advance mental health, and TelPay was top of the list in the business category.

The money-transferring business was honoured for its work with Winnipegger Lisa Shaw, who recently overcame a major depression.

Shaw was diagnosed with major depression with psychotic features about three years ago. She quickly began losing weight and also sleep.

“When I got ill, I never thought I’d live, let alone live to tell the tale,” she said. “At the lowest point in my life, I went into my basement and put a belt around my neck and stepped off a chair.”

Shaw said she immediately thought about her father, who committed suicide years earlier, and she decided to step back on the chair.

After that, Shaw was admitted to an intensive care psychiatric unit and received electroconvulsive therapy to treat her depression.

Shaw credits support from her family and friends for getting her through the process, but she also said she owes a lot to her co-workers at TelPay.

“I came back to a company that cared. I came back to a company where I didn’t have to hide my illness,” she said. “In that first year, I had a lot of doctor appointments and a lot of counselling I needed to do.”

Shaw’s bosses and coworkers visited her throughout her recovery and even helped sign her out of the hospital on her last day, taking her for a celebratory lunch.

“You treat them like they are family — you have to,” said TelPay president Chris Epp-Yollrath. “It isn’t easy, and no one really knows the right thing to do, so you just do, I guess, what comes naturally as a person — not as a company.”

The director of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Winnipeg chapter said the company’s understanding will pay dividends in the future.

“When you work with mental health issues in the workplace, you can lower your disability claims. You can lower your absenteeism — increase productivity,” said Nicole Chammartin. “It just makes good business sense.”

And it’s an issue many companies have to face. The association estimates one in five Canadians will develop a mental illness at some point in their lives.

“If somebody tells you — an employee, a colleague — they have depression, first of all listen to them. Don’t give them a pep talk. Don’t tell them to snap out of it. Listen and keep them safe,” said Shaw, who is now a communications manager for the company.

This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week in Canada.