Mental health costs are high, but awareness is low

By Asha Tomlinson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/04/2003

When most people hear of an employee taking time off work due to illness, they think of the flu, a broken arm, maybe even a heart attack. But, rarely does one think that person could be suffering from depression or an anxiety attack. Why? Because it’s rather taboo to talk about mental illness in the workplace, according to many mental health experts. It’s an issue that has received little attention and support.

“It’s like a big elephant in the middle of the living room,” says Dr. Pierre Beausejour, chief of staff for the Alberta Mental Health Board (AMHB). “Everybody knows it’s there, everybody sees it, but it’s not discussed and dealt with.”

However, it should be on many employers’ agendas. It’s been estimated that mental illness in the workplace costs nearly 14 per cent of the net annual profits of Canadian companies — that’s as much as $16 billion per year. Studies from AMHB show that mental illness and disability keep more people off work than heart disease, accidents or cancer. It is also predicted that depression will soon be the nation’s leading cause of workplace absenteeism.