Mental Health and the Workplace Iqaluit NU

As many as 15-20% of Canadians suffer from a bout of mental health problems during their working lives. These problems include, but are not limited to, depression, substance abuse, and work-related burnout.

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Mental Health and the Workplace

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(NC)-The modern workplace has many expressions to describe workers facing mental health challenges, everything from the "Monday Morning Blues" to the unfortunate phrase, "Going postal".

Does work make you sick? Should it make you feel that way? Not according to Dr. Alain Marchand, a professor at the University of Montreal. Marchand, who is supported by a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, wants to create tools that will help with early diagnosis and treatment of depression, burnout, and substance abuse brought on by work. And he wants to find out more about how work contributes to these problems, given that it's estimated that mental illness costs the Canadian economy $51 billion a year annually.

"Mental health has significant costs for companies, including low productivity, high absenteeism, and higher insurance rates," says Marchand. "We hope we'll be able to make available the best practices and specific strategies for managing mental health issues in the workplace."

While workplace mental health has been studied both in Canada and in other countries, Marchand's research is one of the first major efforts to try and isolate the specific impact of the workplace on mental health.

As part of the study, Marchand's team will assess 60 companies on such factors as: working conditions; the nature of the relationship between workers and their colleagues and management; corporate culture; workers' schedules; and, absenteeism rates. A critical boost has come from the participation of Standard Life, which has provided the list of potential companies for study, most of which are located in Quebec.

Meanwhile, some 3,000 workers at the same companies will be assessed over a two-year period on everything from their home life to their work schedule, the amount of autonomy they have to do their job, and how much support they feel they have from their supervisors. "The relationship between workers and supervisors is one of the strongest predictors of mental problems in the workplace," says Marchand. "When people don't have support they feel alone and start to develop specific symptoms."

Marchand's position is echoed by Bill Wilkerson, CEO of the Toronto-based Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health. "The value of a company's people is in their productivity, which decreases when they have to work in an atmosphere of fear, frustration, ambiguity, and uncertainty. People will not be productive if you treat them poorly or unfairly."

As a result, Marchand's research will also focus on what companies can do to lower the incidence of mental illness. "Showing supervisors how to behave in a more positive way can be taught, and there are skills that can be learned with training."

• 8% of Canadian workers take medication for mental-health conditions

• 15 - 20% of Canadians suffer a bout of mental illness during their working life.

• Approximately 40% of disability claims involve a mental health problem.

• In families where the major earner is diagnosed with a mental illness, the household income drops by as much as 60% per cent.

• Businesses and insurers spend $8.5 billion dollars a year on long-term disability claims related to mental illness, and another $9.3 billion for short-term leaves.

- News Canada