One in five – 20 per cent – Canadians experience a mental health problem or illness each year, pushing the issue to the forefront of most businesses.
A recent white paper from Morneau Sheppell, a human resources consulting firm, and the Mental Health Commission of Canada, in partnership with the Globe & Mail, found that workplace stress is the biggest reason why Canadian workers report mental illness or problems. Depression and anxiety are the biggest factors.
“Mental health is not binary – in that people either have issues or not; it lies along a continuum and can change depending on the challenges we face,” said Bill Howatt, chief research and development officer, workforce productivity at Morneau Shepell. “It’s critical that employers consider the mental health of the entire workforce and develop a strategy that addresses all levels of mental health programming, including preventative measures to keep employees healthy, early intervention to navigate through challenges, and supportive policies to aid in effective transition back into the workplace.”
According to a survey conducted as part of the white paper, almost three-quarters (70 per cent) of respondents stated that their work experience impacted their mental health, while even more (78 per cent) reported mental health as the main reason they missed work.
Employees, however, are confident in their ability to cope, with 59 per cent reporting a neutral – plus 26 per cent being positive – outlook on mental health.
Being able to cope is important, Howatt noted, or else employees are at risk of further harm to themselves.
“The effectiveness of a mental health strategy predicts how well an organization curbs issues in the workplace and supports at-risk employees,” he said. “We’re proud to see a trend towards more Canadian workplaces normalizing mental health in discussions but we recognize that significant work remains, as most organizations don’t have policies in place. We found that this is not because organizations aren’t willing to implement policies, but because they were unsure of where to start.”
How can employers help? The white paper explains two models: 1) a continual improvement or plan-do-check-act model in order to focus on continual improvement, adjustment and evaluation to positively change work environments; and 2) a joint responsibility model, which puts onus on both the employee and employer to foster a healthy work environment through awareness, accountability and action.
“Implementing a successful, comprehensive mental health strategy takes time but is integral to the overall health of the organization,” said Louise Bradley, president and chief executive officer at the commission. “We’re confident that this white paper will bring to light some of the challenges that organizations have faced and offer actions that employers can introduce and begin taking the next step towards a mentally healthy workplace.”