Workplace Stress as Primary Cause of Mental Health Concerns in Canadian Employees

1 in 5 Canadians experience a mental health problem, illness annually

Canadian employees report workplace stress as the primary cause of their mental health problems or illness, with depression and anxiety noted as the top two issues, indicates a white paper called, "Understanding mental health, mental illness and their impacts in the workplace."

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), one in five Canadians experience a mental health problem or illness each year, equating to 500,000 employees unable to work every week due to mental health problems or illnesses.

Morneau Shepell and the Globe and Mail partnered up to create the "mental health experience in Canada's workplaces" survey, which is what the white paper was based off. The joint white paper explains the impact of mental health issues on job performance, core coping strategies being used by employees and the actions that organizations can take to better support employees.

The survey was conducted in Canada from early 2017 to August 2017, with 1,575 responses in total. Of the respondents surveyed, 49 per cent identified as working for a large employer (501 or more employees), 14 per cent for a medium employer (between 101 and 500 employees), 28 per cent for a small employer (one to 100 employees) and nine per cent not currently working. 

"Mental health is not binary – in that people either have issues or not; it lies along a continuum and can change depending on the challenges we face," said Bill Howat, chief research and development officer, workforce productivity, Morneau Shepell.

"It's critical that employers consider the mental health of the entire workforce and develop a strategy that addresses all levels of mental health programming, including preventative measures to keep employees healthy, early intervention to navigate through challenges, and supportive policies to aid in effective transition back into the workplace."

Workplace stress is a major contributor to mental health issues, which can subsequently impact workplace productivity. In today's organizations, the survey found that Canadians reported high levels of concern regarding the impact of their mental health issues on their career and job performance. Close to 70 per cent of respondents stated that their work experience impacted their mental health, while a higher number (78 per cent) reported mental health as the primary reason for missing work.

The white paper outlines that despite the prevalence of mental health issues, employees are confident in their ability to cope with stressful situations. The majority of survey respondents reported a neutral (59 per cent) or positive (26 per cent) outlook on mental health, which closely mirrors the reported coping strategies. More than half (54 per cent) of respondents indicated they have high/optimal coping skills.

Employees identify the use of positive coping mechanisms such as seeking professional support, and negative coping strategies such as drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco.

Without effective coping strategies, employees are at risk of further harm to themselves. The white paper explains that suicide remains a top concern, with more than half (58 per cent) of survey respondents reporting they had considered taking their lives to cope with mental illness.

Effective policies to curb mental health issues are embedded across all stages of employment, from hiring to retirement or turnover. The white paper explains that organizations should follow two models: a continual improvement or plan-do-check-act model, such as Morneau Shepell's total health framework, which focuses on continual improvement, adjustment and evaluation to positively change work environments, and also a joint responsibility model, which puts onus on both the employee and employer to foster a healthy work environment through awareness, accountability and action.

"Implementing a successful, comprehensive mental health strategy takes time but is integral to the overall health of the organization," said Louise Bradley, president and chief executive officer, MHCC. "We're confident that this white paper will bring to light some of the challenges that organizations have faced and offer actions that employers can introduce and begin taking the next step towards a mentally healthy workplace."

Source: COS