stressToday, more than ever, there’s a higher expectation that employers will take our health into consideration while we’re on the job. 

But while many organizations should be commended for protecting our physical health, there is still an unfortunate disconnect when it comes to our mental health. There is a need to examine mental health in the workplace like we do physical health conditions -- yet employers and employees alike often struggle in viewing both in a similar way. 

The cost of mental health in Canada

Doing nothing is not an option. A recent study suggests 44 per cent of workers say they have or have had a mental health issue at work. The case for addressing mental health becomes more compelling when you also consider:

•On any given week, more than a half-million Canadians will not go to work due to mental illness

•The economic cost of mental illness in Canada is about $51 billion annually

• More than 30 per cent of disability claims and 70 per cent of disability costs are attributed to mental illness

The stifling stigma

Mental and physical health are difficult to view in the same way because the role of stigma and discrimination cannot be underestimated. 

Many workplaces actively discriminate by way of systemic barriers, such as hiring practices, or attitudes based on negative beliefs and perceptions. Many employers or employees don't realize they are discriminating. They possess a limited understanding about mental health.  

Stigma and discrimination erodes the psychological safety needed for an employee to speak up. It's critical to build awareness and understanding of how attitudes and systemic barriers can contribute to heightened tensions in the workplace relating to mental health issues. 

One prevention and promotion tool now available to help Canadian companies is the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. 

This standard is a voluntary set of guidelines, tools and resources focused on promoting an employee's psychological health and preventing psychological harm due to workplace factors.

Training is a key part of any strategy and there are several management-training options out there that are cost effective and can be used no matter the size of the company.

What can you do?

If you feel safe to do so, speak up and talk with your manager, your human resources representative or a trusted colleague.  Work collaboratively to find solutions to the workplace challenges and ensure you seek medical attention if required. Finding support during difficult periods is critical. 

“Working Through It” is a free online tool (search Google) that offers hope and guidance to employees struggling with mental health issues at work. This is a resource for employers as well. It helps gain insight about the possible experiences of an employee who is struggling with a mental health issue .

What can employers do?

Foster a work environment that is supportive and where workplace mental health issues can be discussed and addressed. It's not your job to diagnose mental illnesses. But educate yourself. “Mental Health Works,” a program of the Canadian Mental Health Association, offers “Workplace Employer Fundamentals 101,” a free resource that helps employers:

• Understand legal rights and responsibilities

•Recognize if someone is experiencing a problem

• Find appropriate mental health resources

• Learn about reasonable accommodation and hiring practices.

Training is key to any strategy.  Several management-training options are available that are cost effective and can be used in any size of company.

Each person has a role and responsibility to build supportive workplaces.  Increased knowledge and a cultural shift in norms will one day support mental health issues in the workplace as we do other physical conditions.