Supporting Mental Health and Wellness in the Workplace

In 2018, the World Health Organization presented a shocking statistic. It revealed that more than 450 million people globally suffer from mental disorders, which amounts to one in four people.

It was a true testament to one simple fact: mental illness exists everywhere, including in the workplace.

The ground-breaking Centre for Addiction estimates that in any given week, at least “500,000 employed Canadians are unable to work due to mental problems, costing the economy roughly $51 billion annually in lost productivity.”

That’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Employees with mental illness are more likely to be prone to make costly mistakes. Mental health problems and illness are rated one of the top three drivers of disability claims. And according to the Centre for Addiction, “the cost of mental health leave accounts for double the cost of leave for physical illnesses.”

Also worth mentioning, is that there are numerous legal and ethical ramifications associated with mental illness in the workplace. Case in point: companies have to ensure that employees with mental disabilities are not discriminated against and are reasonably accommodated.

Which brings us to a key point. Now, more than ever, proactivity in this area is crucial. Companies of all sizes, in all industries, need to step up to the plate and ask themselves an important question, “What are we doing to support mental health and wellness?”

It’s key to understand what mental illness is.

Mental illnesses are health conditions that involve changes in emotion, thinking and/or behaviour. They are the types of things that are commonly associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social situations, or at work or family activities.

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has done quite a good job of educating people about the area. With 1 in 5 Canadians suffering from mental health issues each year, there’s a strong likelihood that most of us have heard about, experienced or even encountered conditions like depression, bi-polar and anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and various forms of addiction.

These conditions not only effect the people themselves, they can also have a powerful impact on the wellbeing of those around them. It’s proof positive, why supporting an employee’s health is crucial for creating a positive and productive work environment. 

We must recognize that stigma is out there. And do something about it!

Over the last few years, events such as CMHA Mental Health Week have done quite a bit to reduce the stigma people with mental illness feel about their illness.

However, an Ipsos Reid poll revealed these alarming facts” 71% of people with mental illness are concerned with workplace stigma”; and “65% of them indicated self-stigma” which fosters feelings of shame and isolation. This further highlights the need to support mental health in the workplace by reducing stigma, which happens to be the main barrier to people seeking help.

But supporting mental health in the workplace means much more than simply putting stigma away. Stress also needs to be reduced dramatically. That’s because chronic stress can be a silent killer that can trigger other serious problems – and it goes hand-in-hand with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Poor psychological health is risky business.

Stress is a natural part of life. While it can, in fact, motivate us to perform better, it can also negatively impact our psychological health.

There are many risk factors that can contribute to stress at work. The list includes employees experiencing low levels of control; excessive workload; unfulfilling work; people being subjected to physical abuse; an abuse of authority; discrimination and sexual harassment; and non-work-related illnesses.

It’s important to implement mental health strategies.

Ensuring mental health in the workplace, requires a diverse and multifaceted approach. Everyone needs to be involved – from employees who are encouraged to be supportive and respectful of their peers, to managers and supervisors who clearly outline employee responsibilities, show appreciation and recognize early indicators of stress and make accommodations.

Organizations need to do things like assess the current workplace culture, involve employees in the development of mental health initiatives and connect them with resources on psychological health.

There are effective tools that companies can use to support well-being.

According to Nicole Cairns, Health & Wellness Director at Thorpe Benefits, “Positive Management Training can focus on creating thriving, innovative and productive teams and employees can get involved in interactive sessions that are strength based and boost morale.” She adds, “It’s also useful to teach employees resilience, how to manage stress and provide them with mental health support systems and education that help those in need.”

Mental health leadership skill building and staff mental health education are useful tools as well, in reducing both stigma and stress in the workplace. Nicole believes, “It’s important to have communication tools such as awareness posters on-hand to get the word out to employees.” She further notes that “Companies will strongly benefit by having mindfulness and meditation workshops delivered to staff regularly.”

It’s a company’s moral and ethical obligation to support people suffering with Mental Illness.

Are you aware of the legalities around a company’s obligation to support and not discriminate against people suffering from a mental illness?

You need to be!

Companies are required to provide equity between how they support a physical illness versus a mental illness. What this means, is that the facilities and services that are made available for people suffering from mental illness must be equal to those provided for people with physical issues.

On top of this, many companies believe they have a moral and ethical obligation to ensure that they are not creating mental health issues for their staff.

Introducing the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace

Canada has set some excellent guidelines for improving and promoting mental health and preventing psychological harm at work. The guidelines are called the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety – and Thorpe Benefits helps organizations understand them and identify where their strengths and opportunities lie and what they can do to close any gaps.

The guidelines deal with important areas that need to be addressed with respect to psychological safety and health in the workplace. It’s a comprehensive catalogue that covers matters such as organizational culture, psychological and social support, leadership expectations, psychological demands, growth and development, recognition, engagement, balance and physical safety protection.

The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety provides a benchmark that helps companies better understand their own workplace, culture and risk factors so that they can ensure a psychologically safe and healthy environment. With this knowledge, companies are able to boost employee satisfaction, engagement and productivity while also reducing health costs, staff turnover and lost time.

You can download the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety here:

A healthy workplace supports everyone, from employees to management. Thorpe Benefits knows inside out how to help companies achieve a desired culture that promotes mental health awareness and wellness. To find out more, contact us today.