Mental Health in the Workplace: A Worthy Investment

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The conversation around mental wellness is one we’re engaging in more often, and rightfully so. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) provides the following facts and stats derived from several studies cited on their website:

  • In any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians experiences a mental illness or addiction problem;
  • By the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, 1 in 2 have or will have had a mental illness;
  • With appropriate treatment and support, most people will recover;
  • The stigma is still there, but reducing: According to a 2008 study, only 50% of Canadians would tell friends or co-workers that they have a family member with a mental illness, compared to 72% that would discuss a diagnosis of cancer. In 2015, 57% of Canadians believe the stigma has reduced, and 81% are more aware of mental health issues compared to five years ago.

While we know to check in with our friends, our partners, ourselves and our children, we stumble when it comes to our team members. Most employers are uncomfortable discussing mental health, whereas they openly discuss and support physical wellbeing. CAMH indicates 39% of Ontario workers would not tell their managers if they were experiencing a mental health problem.

And yet the impact of mental illness on the affected individuals, families, friends, businesses and society is enormous. CAMH estimates the economic burden of mental illness in Canada is $51 billion per year, including healthcare costs, lost productivity and reduced quality of life. In any given week, approximately 175,000 full-time workers are absent due to mental illness.

Business leaders can do far more to promote, protect and support the mental wellbeing of their team. It not only makes sense from a humanitarian perspective, but also from a business perspective. Here are some suggestions to get you started:

1. Understand the Urgency and Impact

  • In 2015-16, researchers found that people experiencing depression who had unsupportive managers needed an additional 4.1 days away from the office[1].
  • 92% of people with mental health considerations believe that openly addressing them in the workplace might damage their careers. However, a growing body of research points out that feeling authentic and open at work correlates with performance, engagement, and job satisfaction[2].
  • The failure to appropriately address mental wellness is resulting in higher rates of absence and lower satisfaction with the days spent in the office.

2. Educate, De-Stigmatize, Normalize Mental Wellbeing

We are grateful to celebrities and public figures who openly step forward to share their struggles with mental health. We know this is the right thing to do – to normalize struggles with mood, depression, anxiety or addictions – so they can be treated and supported just like physical illnesses. Yet we are too often silent within our departments or companies, hoping all is well and that co-workers or employees will sort things out on their own and seek help when they need it.

They are far more likely to do so in an environment where mental health is understood, normalized and actively supported. Here are some tips:

  • Never engage in or tolerate conversations in which people struggling with mental health are shamed, challenged or questioned about the authenticity of their illnesses;
  • Consider mental illness on par with physical illness and be just as supportive when a team member reaches out for help or accommodation;
  • Educate managers and supervisors on signs a team member may be struggling; reach out to mental health associations to conduct learning sessions and outline their services
  • Include mental health in your policies regarding health-related time off;
  • Develop a list of mental health resources in your community to provide to team members who step forward to share their struggles;
  • If you offer a group benefits program, familiarize yourself with the coverage and services provided by your insurer;
  • In leadership meetings, remind managers to promote a culture in which mental health is understood and supported.

Mental wellness is always in flux and affects every one of us. The wholistic success of your team members depends on the workplace being somewhere they can work through their ebbs and flows and take care of their health – physical and emotional. In any state of health or wellness, give your team members the tools to be the best, most authentic version of themselves. That’s not only good business sense, but it’s also the right thing to do.

Disclaimer: This article is intended for general information only and is not intended as legal opinion or advice. The views and opinions expressed do not reflect the official position of BNG Bossy Nagy Group or any other affiliate.

[1]The Guardian: Depressed Workers More Productive if They Can Talk to Their Bosses. H. Siddique, 2018.

[2]Journal of Happiness Studies: Authenticity at Work. R. van den Bosch and T. W. Taris, 2013.

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