World Mental Health Day: Strategies for a Healthier Workplace

World Mental Health Day: Strategies for a Healthier Workplace

Do we need a global conversation on mental health?

The World Federation for Mental Health (WFMH) says, “Yes.” On October 10th we will be marking the World Mental Health Day, founded in 1992 by the WFMH, in order to raise awareness on mental health issues for all people. This year’s theme – Mental Health in the Workplace – is an opportunity to look at our work environments through the lens of mental health and speak openly about what promotes and what hinders wellbeing in the workplace.

With 60 percent of Canadian adults spending two thirds of their waking hours at work, the need to address mental health in the workplace cannot be overstated. The WFMH explains that although one in four adults will experience mental health difficulties in their lifetime, prejudice and discrimination are significant barriers that prevent people from opening up and reaching out for support. For many organizations, ensuring that all people who experience mental illness feel safe enough to discuss their realities and needs with dignity requires a significant shift in workplace culture.

Mental health promotion and prevention: the benefits

Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression, more than 260 million are living with anxiety disorders, and many of these people live with both, according to data provided by the WFMH. Despite these numbers, a 2008 report by the Canadian Medical Association showed that only 50 per cent of Canadians would tell their friends or co-workers that they have a family member with a mental illness, compared to 72 per cent who would discuss a diagnosis of cancer, and 68 per cent who would talk about a family member having diabetes. This shows that despite the prevalence of mental illness in our society, stigma and discrimination towards mental illness persists.

In order for people get the help they need, we need to break this stigma.

In addition to the human cost, untreated mental disorders are also a financial cost to both employers and employees in the form of reduced productivity at work, increases in workplace accidents and higher staff turnover, among other impacts. The World Economic Forum estimates that for every US dollar put into improving access to treatment for common mental challenges there is a return of four dollars in improved health and productivity.

Workplaces that recognize the importance of promoting emotional and mental wellbeing and supporting people experiencing mental issues are not only more resilient to such challenges but are also better positioned to attract and retain top talent.

Working together to promote a culture of wellbeing

How can I have an honest and frank discussion with my superiors about my mental state and still have them trust me to get things done and value me as an employee?

This question is on the minds of many employees who are going through a difficult time and wondering if it would cost them their job.

To make it easier for employees to discuss their mental health needs, employers need to make meaningful investments in mental health promotion and initiatives. Employers should also be proactive in addressing and resolving key organizational issues that are likely to impact employees’ morale and wellbeing. These include:

  • unclear tasks or organizational objectives
  • inadequate health and safety policies
  • poor communication and management practices
  • limited participation in decision-making or low control over one’s area of work
  • inflexible working hours
  • low levels of support

Employers also have the power to help de-stigmatize the topic of mental health in the workplace, and there are many different strategies that can contribute to this. Here are just some examples:

  • hosting workshops, speakers and “lunch and learns” on topics of self-care and wellbeing
  • negotiating discounted access to gyms and other perks that promote wellbeing
  • posting resources and telephone numbers of mental health services in common areas
  • starting conversations and challenging negative or disempowering ideas and language
  • ensuring mental health days are incorporated into office culture
  • deciding collaboratively with employees what resources and office practices would be helpful to promote mental health in the workplace

Employees also have a key role to play in maintaining a physically and psychologically health environment by paying attention to and responding to their needs and taking advantage of supports and services available to them. Putting in place a personal support system inside and outside of the workplace can make a significant difference during a personal crisis.

Many workplaces have an Employee Assistance Program that provides counselling and support with life transitions. A Human Resources representative can help direct employees to the right resources and advise about the supports, adjustments or accommodations available as part of their employment.

Regardless of the level of your position, everyone has a role to play in promoting a healthy workplace culture that respects the dignity and diversity of every employee.

Celebrate the World Mental Health Day by signing the Workplace Mental Health Pledge and having a conversation with your colleagues about how your organization is doing in promoting a mentally healthy workplace.
Additional Resources:

Information about common mental health disorders Standard of Canada for

Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace

Workplace Strategies for Mental Health

The Role of Health and Safety Committee

Not Myself Today® helps companies build mentally healthy workplaces

Huffington Post: What Happens When People Reveal Their Mental Illness to Their Boss?