Why Mental Health in the Workplace Matters

Given that most people who work spend most of their waking hours at work, understanding the human costs of workplace mental illness is essential.  This understanding helps employers develop an action plan for improving both the bottom line and employee well-being.

Best practices support early intervention. The vision for a psychologically healthy and safe workplace is one that promotes workers’ psychological well-being and allows no harm to worker mental health in negligent, reckless or intentional ways.


However, if you are diagnosed with a mental illness, as about one in four Canadians will be, it is likely that you will still be working.
According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, it is estimated that mental illness costs the Canadian economy $51 billion per year in terms of healthcare service use, lost workdays and work disruptions. It is the responsibility of both employers and employees to protect and promote health in the workplace.

A healthy Canadian economy relies on healthy minds and mental health is an integral and essential component of health.

The World Health Organization (WHO) constitution states: "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. “ In the workplace, “there can be no health without mental health.”

Most Canadians have difficulty finding time for all their roles and responsibilities.   In fact, 58% of Canadians report “overload” as a result of the pressures associated with work, home and family, friends, physical health, volunteer and community service. A formal mood or anxiety disorder impacts an estimated 22% of the Canadian population meaning that every day, 500,000 Canadians miss work due to a form of mental illness. In fact, at this very moment, some 3 million Canadians are suffering from depression. The burden of mental illness and addictions in Ontario is more than 1.5 times that of all cancers, and more than seven times that of all infectious diseases.

  • “I’m over-worked and overwhelmed, but my boss sets the deadlines, and there’s nothing I can do.”
  • “The demands don’t end at 5 pm – on top of work, I have to make time for all my other responsibilities, too.  I don’t remember the last time I did anything just for me.” 
  • “I feel like I’m rushing all the time.  I’m always hurrying to get the next thing done - sometimes I make mistakes that take even longer to fix!  It feels like an endless cycle.” 

Many feel that there’s nothing they can do to bring their lives back into balance. Some of the signs of work/life imbalance include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed, like you’ve lost control of your life
  • Feeling guilty that you’re neglecting areas of your life
  • Difficulty concentrating

The Canadian Medical Association reported this year that only 49% of Canadians said they would socialize with a friend who has a serious mental illness. 27% of Canadians are actually fearful of being around people who suffer from serious mental illness.

The biggest piece of advice on what to do is to not be afraid. The stigma and silence surrounding suffering with mental illness is immense; it is no wonder that 2 in 3 people suffer in silence fearing judgment and rejection. Do not be afraid to talk to them. Great West Life’s Workplace Strategies for Mental Health  offers the following suggestions:

Explore the situation

  • Tell your co-worker that she/he does not seem to be himself lately, and specifically state what you see. “You don’t look as well as you usually do. You seem upset and distracted. Are you feeling okay?”
  • Resist making any judgments or conclusions about what is going on. Instead, invite your coworker to talk about what he is experiencing. When she/he is done, repeat what you heard and ask her/him if that is correct.
  • Resist giving her/him advice about what to do. Instead, continue to listen and ask what you can do to help. There are two reasons for this approach. The first is that you avoid giving the wrong advice or unwanted advice – both of which could have unintended consequences. The second is that you are able to help your co-worker focus on what it is she/he needs. When any of us are consumed by negative or fearful thoughts, we can lose sight of what we need to move beyond them.

Remember that you do not have to be your co-workers therapist. Refer instead to appropriate resources and just continue to be a concerned friend/co-worker who is there for support. Do not allow your days to become filled up with discussion about problems. Help them to focus on solutions for their issues. It is honourable that you want to help.

Remember to protect your own health and well-being at the same time. More on that in next month’s blog.