Mental illness to cost Canadian economy $20.7 billion in 2012: Conference Board

Mental health issues reducing number of workers available in labour force

Mental illnesses are costing Canada about $20.7 billion in 2012 by reducing the number of workers available in the labour force, according to a report by the Conference Board of Canada. This cost is growing at a rate of approximately 1.9 per cent every year and is expected to rise to $29.1 billion annually by 2030, found Mental Health Issues in the Labour Force: Reducing the Economic Impact on Canada.

“When workers have poor mental health, they have a lessened capacity to perform to their utmost. Sometimes workers with mental illnesses drop out of the workforce completely,” said Diana MacKay, director of education, health and immigration at the Conference Board. “With this loss to the labour supply now exceeding $20 billion a year, employers and governments clearly need to become more aware of mental health issues among Canadian workers and committed to addressing them.”

The labour force participation rate is the percentage of working-age people who are either employed or unemployed, but are actively looking for work. The report measures the costs to Canada’s economy of lost labour market participation from the six most common conditions afflicting the working-age population — depression, dysthymia, bipolar disorder, social phobia, panic disorder and agoraphobia. All six conditions range in severity from mild and sporadic to completely debilitating. Furthermore, each illness has a stigma attached to it, said the Conference Board.

Almost 452,000 more Canadians would be participating in the labour force in 2012 if they were not affected by mental illness.

These estimates of the economic impact do not include the costs of patient care, insurance for employers, services in communities, and the many intangible costs for the individuals affected and their families.

Stakeholders in the Canadian economy—particularly governments and businesses— would benefit substantially by mitigating this cost to our national economic performance, said the Conference Board.

“Mental illnesses are prevalent in our workplaces and they are taking a significant toll. In a world where shortages of critical skills are top-of-mind for many organizations, employers cannot afford to allow this to continue,” said Karla Thorpe, director of leadership and human resources at the Conference Board. “If employers can be active in helping people remain functional at work, then everyone stands to gain — the individuals who are affected, firms, and the Canadian economy as a whole.”

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