Mental Health in the Workplace

Mental Health

More than half (57 per cent) of Canadian employees and managers are currently suffering from a mental health problem or sleeping disorder, or have done so in the past.

Awareness of mental health issues has increased significantly over the past few years. The effects of trauma on military personnel and first responders such as police have been in the news resulting in improved efforts to treat illnesses such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The stigma of being affected by PTSD is much less of a barrier to treatment than in the past. While absenteeism and presenteeism in the workplace due to stress and mental health issues have been well known to employers, proactive treatment and prevention has not been seen as a priority. The time is coming when, like PTSD in military and first responders, issues of stress, mental health and addiction in the workplace will receive much more attention.

Group Benefits claims data consistently shows that mental health contributed to 21.3% of all short and long-term disability claims. That figure increases dramatically to over 40% in the non-profit sector, particularly health care and front-line social service agencies.  It’s one of the top three categories of both short and long-term disability claims for more than 80% of Canadian employers, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, and costs more than $6 billion annually in lost productivity from absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover.

Characteristics of a Mental Illness

Mental illness can manifest in many ways, some subtle and others overt. Some of the defining characteristics of a mental illness are that it:

  • is a recognized, medically diagnosable illness
  • can cause significant cognitive, affective or relational impairment
  • results from biological, developmental and/or psychosocial factors
  • can be managed using physical disease approaches, such as prevention, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation

Some of the more common and well-researched categories of mental illness include:

  • Mood disorders (affective disorders): depression, mania and bipolar
  • Anxiety disorders: generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive/compulsive disorder and panic disorder
  • Psychotic disorders: schizophrenia
  • Concurrent disorders: addictions and substance abuse
  • Personality disorders: antisocial personality disorder and obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
The Cooperators December 2017

Helping Employees with Mental Health

Mental illness affects a considerable number of Canadians. More than half (57 per cent) of Canadian employees and managers are currently suffering from a mental health problem or sleeping disorder, or have done so in the past, according to new research by Morneau Shepell Ltd. In a brief review of drug claims by (the aggregate of) ASSOCIUM clients, anti-depressants such as Prozac make up one of the largest single categories of overall claims.  The cost to Canadian employers is significant.

ASSOCIUM partner the Cooperators Life Insurance Company is taking a proactive approach to workplace mental health, as an employer. They are now offering increased access to therapies such as family counselling. “Supporting mental health is the right thing to do and The Co-operators is committed to providing innovative access to customizable care, so that our employees have access to the care they need, where and when they need it as they cope with these health concerns.”  According to Rob Wesseling, president and CEO. 

The stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness as well as family members ill-equipped to provide effective support are often barriers to help. There are, however, effective treatment resources available. Employers can take proactive measures to support their workforce. The first step is understanding as much as possible about mental health and how to recognize signs of mental health issues in the workplace. Often, workplace stress is a significant contributor. Having an employee assistance plan in place gives the employee an immediate resource and can make it less “awkward” for an employer or manager to recommend a support to an employee who may be in crisis or have issues. Other resources such as third party disability management can also provide expert advice and support for an employee in need.

The time has come for the stigma of mental health issues to give way to awareness and positive support in the workplace.  For more information on how you can address mental health issues in your workplace, please contact your ASSOCIUM Benefits representative.

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