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Firms can’t ignore mental health

Canadian HR Reporter roundtable tackles critical topic - watch for June 3 issue for coverage

If your organization isn’t tackling mental health in a proactive manner, with a well thought-out strategy, it’s playing a dangerous game with the bottom line.

The numbers are staggering. One in five Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness in any given year, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC). Nearly one-third of short- and long-term disability claims in the country are attributed to mental health and it costs the economy $51 billion a year. A good chunk of that total — $20 billion — stems directly from workplace losses.

That’s a pretty big elephant in the room. Some employers have expressed frustration about a “sudden mental health epidemic” that seems to have erupted among employees. But there is no epidemic — it’s just that the stigma is, slowly, being chipped away. People are less inclined to suffer in silence, and that’s not a bad thing.

One of the very first employment law cases I read as a journalist covering workplace issues was the 1997 Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Wallace v. United Grain Growers. The case wasn’t about mental health, per se, but rather about how a worker was treated in the manner of his dismissal.

In the ruling, the court pointed out that “work is one of the most fundamental aspects in a person’s life, providing the individual with a means of financial support and… a contributor role in society.”

That quote stuck with me, because it’s true: Work is a defining feature of most people’s lives. The first question at a cocktail party is invariably, “What do you do?” So it’s hardly surprising that mental health issues manifest themselves so frequently in the workplace.

Thankfully, employers don’t have to look very far for assistance in crafting effective mental health strategies. The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), in collaboration with the CSA Group and Bureau de normalisation in Quebec, took the wraps off the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety earlier this year.

As reported earlier this year in Canadian HR Reporter, it “provides a systemic approach to developing a psychologically healthy and safe workplace, including identifying hazards, assessing and controlling risks, growing a culture to promote a healthy, safe workplace and implementing measurement and review systems to ensure sustainability.”

To further the discussion on workplace mental health, Canadian HR Reporter hosted a special roundtable, bringing together a group of seven experts to talk about the standard and what employers can do to address mental health.

It was a fascinating conversation, kicked off by a poignant story from Brian Knowler, a staff sergeant with a police service in Ontario, that put a human face on all the figures and statistics. First responders may be more likely to face traumatic incidents than the general population, but post-traumatic stress disorder — which Knowler was diagnosed with — can occur in any role in any organization.

You can get a flavour of the conversation in the cover story of this issue, but it doesn’t end there. We also filmed the roundtable, and we’ll be releasing a series of videos from the discussion. Stay tuned for more information.

I'd also like to take a moment to thank the panellists, who contributed to the excellent discussion. On the panel were: 

•Cheryl Edwards, partner, Heenan Blaikie

•Sari Sairanen, national health and safety director, CAW

•Carey Uyeda, disability services manager, Fallsview Casino Resort

•Ian Arnold, former chair of the Workforce Advisory Committee of the Mental Health Commission of Canada and a consultant

•Sue Brown, principal, Mercer

•Brian Knowler, staff sergeant at an Ontario police service

•Drew Sousa, manager, employee health services, City of Mississauga. 

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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