Canada leading the way on addressing mental health in the workplace

New study commissioned by Great-West Life shows that mental health stigma has deteriorated markedly over the past decade

Canada leading the way on addressing mental health in the workplace
A new study reveals that Canadian employers have made great strides when it comes to addressing mental health issues in the workplace.

The Evolution of Workplace Mental Health in Canada, 2007-2017 was commissioned by the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace (the Centre), and featured research by psychologist, Dr. Joti Samra.

The report shows that 77 per cent of working Canadians believed attitudes toward workplace mental health issues are better than they were in 2007. In addition, respondents who said their workplace is psychologically unhealthy or unsafe was reduced from 20 per cent in 2009 to 10 per cent currently.                                     
Mary Ann Baynton is program director for the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, and believes these findings reflect the positive changes she has witnessed in her role.
“The evolution of our centre is tied with the evolution of workplace mental health in Canada,” she says. “We originally looked at employees that may be struggling with mental health issues like depression or anxiety. What that evolved to was really taking a step back and looking at how the workplace could be a source of stress and illness for employees. How could we protect employees’ psychological health and safety?”
The Centre celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and its program director has a lot of pride in what has been achieved by the program. One of the greatest hurdles in improving mental health in the workplace was the fact that so many people suffered in silence. In 2017, any stigma that existed in the past is no longer such a factor. With knowledge comes acceptance and this was reflected in the study’s findings where 79 per cent of working Canadians say they know about mental health conditions like depression, compared to 66 per cent in 2007.
“Great-West Life supports a lot of different causes, and workplace mental health was something they really wanted to get behind,” says Baynton. “From an insurance perspective, they saw the incidence of disability due to mental health issues was rising and people were suffering. So they said they could help individuals, but also employers. If you can support an employee that is struggling with mental health issues, they can often stay productive at work.”

In helping employees to address any difficulties they may have, firms need to ensure they follow some key steps. Every employee is different of course, and should be treated as such, but there are guidelines that are applicable in most cases.

“It is not a cookie-cutter approach, but the National Standard of Canada on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace provides a framework so employers can customize an approach that will work for them,” she says. “You need to make sure that your policies are not stigmatizing and will not cause undue stress to employees.”
Policies are important, but even more vital is the relationship that exists between management and workers. A toxic work atmosphere is often generated when there is a clear disconnect between those two levels, so it’s something that every company needs to prioritize.
“From a management level, you have to make sure that your managers are competent to manage, support and lead people,” she says. “That means supporting employees’ success rather than causing them distress. At an individual level, employees themselves need to be encouraged and given the tools and the resources to manage their own mental health. To recognize when their mental health is not good so they reach out and get the support they need.”

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