Tackling mental health problems in the workplace

Mental illness is a growing area of concern for all Canadian organizations. Could good HR policies help reduce its impact on your employees and company?

Almost 3.5 million Canadian workers are affected by mental illness, with depression and anxiety two of the most common illnesses. As stress levels increase every year, how can employers help support their employees’ mental health?

Mental Health Works national program manager Kathy Jurgens said mental illness is an overlooked workplace issue, but there are ways to better manage it to protect your staff and help your company.

“Creating a culture of support is crucial,” Jurgens said. “This would include mental health crisis response and support as well as mental health prevention and promotion strategies.  Creating a psychologically healthy and safe work environment is beneficial to all workers, regardless of the industry, but more critical if the industries are already plagued with an increase of mental health issues due to workplace factors.”

High-stress industries such as emergency response and medical personnel, who are frequently exposed to traumatic events, are considered high risk. However, for any organization support systems need to be in place. Individuals cope with stress differently and even a small change to their work environment could make a difference.

“Save yourself time, energy, and money and get educated on how to better support all of your employees with regards to mental health.  Simply put, it’s a sound business decision,” Jurgens said.

Toronto consultant Timothy Holden says flexibility, open-mindedness and a supportive culture are key.

“The three main areas are stress, anxiety and depression. All three are symptomatic of an organiztion that doesn’t allow people to say no,” Holden said.

Issues such as long hours, little vacation – or a work culture that disapproves of taking vacation time – and a long commute can all contribute to stress.

“Organizations need to ask what can we do to make our employees more healthy, including mental health?” Holden added. “A culture and environment where people with mental health issues can talk about it and not feel they’ll be castigated or criticized and the employer accommodates as much as they can is ideal. It’s not simply offering days off, but basing it on support and culture.”

Signs of growing stress or anxiety:

  1. Consistent late arrivals or frequent absences
  2. Lack of cooperation or a general inability to work with colleagues
  3. Decreased productivity
  4. Increased accidents or safety problems
  5. Frequent complaints of fatigue or unexplained pains
  6. Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things
  7. Decreased interest or involvement in one’s work
  8. Working excessive overtime over a prolonged period of time
  9. Expressions of strange or grandiose ideas
  10. Displays of anger or blaming of others


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