- by keeping your most valuable tools - your employees - in good working order:
With the growing openness to talk about mental health and illness, it’s time to take mental health to work! With most adults spending 60% of their waking hours at work, the work environment becomes a key driver in people’s physical and mental health. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), one in five Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime and the other four will know someone – a friend, family member or co-worker – who has. It touches us all.
Some employees come to their workplace with a pre-existing mental illness. For others, their mental illness, usually depression and anxiety, is a result of their work environment. According to one study, almost three-quarters of all people with a mental illness are working.
The effect of mental illness is not just felt by the individual but by their co-workers and their workplace. CAMH reported that “mental health is the number one cause of workplace disability in Canada, accounting for nearly 30% of disability claims and 70% of the total disability costs.”
To raise the profile and provide support to workplaces, a new voluntary Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace standard has been created, to be launched in 2013. The standard outlines 13 psychosocial risk factors that can either improve or worsen a worker’s mental well-being: organizational culture, psychological and social support, clear leadership and expectations, civility and respect, psychological demands, growth and development, recognition and reward, involvement and influence, workload management, engagement, balance, psychological protection and protection of physical safety.
To properly support employees with mental health problems, we need to challenge our own assumptions and stereotypes. In addition, workplaces need to create an environment that makes it safe for employees to talk about aspects of their lives that are having an impact on their mental health. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), “employees who were diagnosed with depression and who took the appropriate medication saved their employer an average of 11 days a year in prevented absenteeism.”
What can we do if we believe a co-worker is struggling to cope with depression, anxiety or any other mental illness? Here are some tips.
1. Encourage the co-worker to enlist the support of someone they trust who can help to advocate on their behalf (e.g., union steward, a sympathetic work friend, family member, or friend).
2. Make the co-worker aware that there is a psychological health and safety standard as well as other resources that may help guide the support she or he can ask for in their workplace.
3. Suggest to the co-worker that they make use of other services/resources available in the community and through work (e.g. employee and family assistance programs or benefits).
If you or someone you know needs help, visit www.pcchu.ca for a list of services in our community. Employers who want to ensure that your workplace is psychologically healthy and safe, visit www.healthatworkpeterborough.ca for resources that can help you get started.
The World Health Organization predicts that depression will be the single biggest medical burden on health by 2020. A recent report by Pubic Health Ontario and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, “Opening Eyes, Opening Minds” found that the burden of mental illness and addictions in Ontario is more than one and a half times that of all cancers, and more than seven times that of all infectious diseases. Early detection and timely treatment are critical. Whether at home, at work, or at play, let’s all take note and take care of one another.
Dr. Rosana Pellizzari is medical officer of health for Peterborough city and county.