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Economic Costs and Solutions for Mental Health Problems and Illnesses in the Workplace

Mental health problems and illnesses have a significant negative impact on Canada’s economy as a result of reduced numbers of workers available in the workforce.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada estimated in 2016 the total cost to Canada’s economy incurred by mental health problems and illnesses was over $50 billion annually or approximately $1,400 per person living in Canada.

By developing company policies and initiatives to create psychologically safe workplaces we can reduce the high costs that mental health problems and illnesses impose on Canada’s economy.

About Mental Health and Illnesses

1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness in any given year.

Mental illness does not discriminate; it can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, geography, income, social status, race/ethnicity, religion/spirituality, sexual orientation, background or other aspects of cultural identity.

Mental Health involves effective functioning in daily activities resulting in:

  • Productive activities (work, school, caregiving)
  • Healthy relationships
  • Ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity

Mental health is key to successful relationships, personal and emotional wellbeing, and contributing economically to society.

Mental Illness refers collectively to all diagnosable mental disorders and health conditions involving:

  • Significant changes in thinking, emotion, and/or behavior.
  • Distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.

Serious mental illnesses such as major depressive disorder can result in severe functional impairments that can interfere or limit major life activities such as going to work or participating in family activities.

How does Mental Health Problems and Illnesses Affect the Workplace?

When workers have poor mental health their capacity to perform to their highest ability drops, therefore, productivity loss occurs.

The two most prevalent mental illnesses that caused the biggest productivity loss in 2016 were anxiety and depression. In 2016, the MHCC estimated $49 billion in lost productivity that occurred from these two conditions alone.

The Conference Board of Canada’s (2012) report on the high costs of mental illnesses on Canada’s economy calculated that the indirect costs from depression alone in 2012 was $32.3 billon.

With mental illnesses being so prevalent in the workplace and causing a significant economic burden it is in employer’s best interest to create policies and initiatives to help people remain functional at work, which in the end will benefit Canada’s economy as a whole.

How companies can improve mental health in the workplace

The best way companies can achieve a psychologically safe workplace is to create a comprehensive workplace health and safety program. This program is written policies and initiatives created by the employer with their employees in mind to improve and maintain the quality of working life, health, and the well-being of their employees in the workplace. 

To develop your Comprehensive Workplace Health and Safety Program follow these four steps:

  1. Lead (management leadership and commitment)
  2. Plan (organize)
  3. Do (implement)
  4. Check (evaluate)
  5. Act (improve)

Having a comprehensive workplace health and safety program can improve employee co-operation and engagement, morale and employee satisfaction, employee retention, and productivity. It can also reduce employee absenteeism and turnover rates, health costs, time off due to medical problems or disabilities, workplace injuries, and work time lost.

Your comprehensive workplace health and safety program should include four main components:

  1. Occupational health and safety (the physical environment)
  2. Psychosocial work environment (organizational culture and the organization of work)
  3. Workplace health promotion (well-being, wellness)
  4. Organizational community involvement

Occupational health and safety:

  • Promotion and maintenance of the physical, mental, and social well-being of employees.
  • Reducing work-related injury, illness, and disability by addressing the hazards and risks of the physical environment.

Psychosocial work environment:

  • Organizational culture includes the following: the attitudes, values, and beliefs that guide workplace behaviours and influence the work environment on a daily basis, affecting the mental and physical well-being of employees.
  • Organization of work includes the following: demands or workload, communication quality, fairness in how work is distributed, opportunities for growth and development, and fit between employee’s skills and the position they hold.

Workplace health promotion programs:

  • Wellness programs provide a proactive approach to healthy living for all employees which can include active living, smoking cessation, fitness, and healthy eating.
  • Promotion of a healthy work-life balance.

Organizational community involvement:

  • Businesses may decide to support local charities or encourage their employees to volunteer in the community.
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