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Mind Matters
Businesses can't afford to ignore the mental health of their employees

I still remember how it felt as my heart pounded away. The sweat was just pouring off of me. As we raced to the hospital, all I could think was that it had to be a heart attack. But I didn't smoke. Didn't drink. I wasn't on any prescription medication. How could this possibly happen?

Then the doctor began talking about panic attacks.

A mental condition was the last thing on my mind, but there it was. No matter what I tried, I couldn't relax. The trip to the hospital finally convinced me that something had to be done.

Thankfully I was able to address the issue. Two visits with a psychiatrist helped me get to the root of my anxiety, largely by talking through different situations. I learned breathing exercises and other ways to protect my mental health.

That was almost 15 years ago, but I still struggled with the idea of sharing the situation with you today. Would anyone think I was weak because I sought help? It speaks to the stigma that surrounds mental health. If am reluctant to seek help or share my experience – even though I champion the need to support mental health in the workplace -- how many others are hiding in the shadows?
 
More than you might imagine. The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that mental illness touches every Canadian, whether it's a personal challenge or one faced by a family member, friend or colleague. 

A 2014 survey by Morneau Shepell found that 33% of working Canadians have suffered from a mental health condition such as depression or an anxiety disorder, 27% report significant symptoms of stress, and most believe that support in the workplace could help reduce the impact of stressors. While stress is a reality in any workplace, 83% said that the way that a workplace supports and responds to employees will make a difference in whether stress is seen as positive or negative influence.

It all makes a difference in the bottom line. Canadian employers lose billions because of absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover every year. Surveyed employees said it makes a difference in productivity (87% believe that a mentally healthy workplace affects the ability to meet business needs) and employee turnover (86% believe a mentally healthy workplace affects attraction and retention).

Mental health claims -- especially depression -- have overtaken cardiovascular disease as the fastest-growing category of disability costs. Anti-depressants already account for some of the highest costs in prescription drug plans that I monitor. To compound matters, the Morneau Shepell research found that employers overestimate how well they're doing in addressing psychological health and safety factors.

The days of leaving employees to "pull themselves out of it" are over. At least, they should be.

It is why I was proud to play a role in the Ajax-Pickering Board of Trade's call for an Ontario Chamber of Commerce policy on the issue. Now the largest business organization in Ontario is calling on the provincial government to develop a comprehensive workplace mental health strategy that emphasizes mental health awareness, education and rehabilitation for employees. It calls for regional mental health centres to include workplace mental health issues, so employers can be referred to sources that can help with workplace-oriented programs. And it looks for a public education and awareness campaign on the social and economic value of workplace mental health.

In the meantime there are many valuable resources available for every employer. The Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace offers guidance at www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com, showing things such as how to bring up the topic with a struggling employee. The Let's Talk program developed by Bell (letstalk.bell.ca) is doing its part to end the stigma around mental health.

They're free resources of help that should be embraced. After all, employers and employees can't afford to ignore the challenges around them.

Top Tips:

  • Consider past, existing and potential issues when developing a workplace mental health plan.
  • Educate yourself on how to manage emotions, accommodation, performance, conflict and employees who are returning to work. There is great insight for small and large businesses alike at www.workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com.
  • Include mental health in first aid training, to ensure staff members are prepared to address a crisis.
  • Offer employees support through a formal Employee Assistance Program.

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All rights reserved. All of the content herein is the sole property of the Callery Group, and may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in a retrieval system - in whole or in part - without the written permission of the Callery Group. Links to the originating article at www.callerygroup.com are permitted.

The Buzz Bits
Miscellaneous links to interesting benefits information

Minimizing benefits fraud: smallbizadvisor

Getting over failure and disappointment: LifeWorks

Employment Standards poster that must be posted: Ontario Ministry of Labour

Workplace strategies for mental health: Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace

Community Ethics, Big City Expertise

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