Health and Safety

Mental Health in the Canadian Workplace

May 9, 2018

Monday, May 7, 2018 marked the kick-off of Mental Health Week in Canada, and the numbers tell a clear story: one in five Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. This costs the economy over $50 million per year in health claims, and employers more than $6 billion in lost productivity due to absenteeism, presenteeism, and turnover related to mental health illnesses. And yet nearly four out of ten workers revealed that they would not tell their manager if they had a mental health problem. The overwhelming reason for this was that they were afraid that disclosing this information would have a negative effect on their careers.

These statistics reveal a shocking truth: despite the prevalence of mental health issues in the Canadian workforce, and despite the progress that has been made in the field of mental health education, there is still a stigma associated with mental illness. This stigma is often a result of myths and stereotypes regarding mental health issues.

This pattern needs to change. For one thing, there are laws and regulations that protect individuals from discrimination due to mental illnesses. For another, ignoring mental illness in the workplace is bad for business—it hurts the bottom line. It can result in loss of productivity, lowered employee morale, high rates of employee turnover, and increases in both absenteeism and presenteeism. When mental illnesses in the workplace go untreated, it can eventually result in spikes in expenses related to short- and long-term disability claims and other services related to provision of care.

Many larger organizations with well-funded HR departments are becoming more aware of mental health issues and implementing various initiatives and employee assistance programs to promote mental health and wellness. However, where does this leave the small business owners who already have their hands full trying to juggle multiple responsibilities?

Small and medium-sized businesses actually have an advantage for overcoming the stigma surrounding mental illness because the employees in the company usually know each other personally, which can make it easier to honestly confront these issues.

Mental illness is one of the last remaining taboos in the workplace. Despite the fact that as many as 500,000 Canadians miss work every week due to their struggle with mental health problems, it is an issue that is often greeted with a deafening silence. Employees are reluctant to address the issue of mental health openly, and many businesses are ill-equipped to deal with mental illness in the workplace. However, by honestly confronting these problems that afflict such a significant segment of the workforce, organizations can improve the quality of life for employees and improve productivity and lower their disability claims in the process. 

To help #GETLOUD about mental health in the workplace, download our free guide, which reviews four steps that small and medium sized organizations can take to overcome the stigma surrounding mental illness, and promote sound mental health among employees.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on May 1, 2017 and was updated May 10, 2018.

Sources:Centre for Addiction and Mental HealthMental Health CommissionCanadian Mental Health Association

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