Why 500,000 Canadians Miss Work Every Week: Mental Illness Awareness Week

Why 500,000 Canadians Miss Work Every Week: Mental Illness Awareness Week

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), one in five Canadians will have a diagnosed mental health problem at some point in their lives. Furthermore, 500,000 Canadians miss work every week due to mental illness (CMHA, 2020). Mental illness/mental health disorders can have devastating impacts on the workplace, economy, and personal lives of employees.

October 3rd to October 9th, 2021, is Mental Illness Awareness Week. This national awareness week began in 1992 by the Canadian Psychiatric Association. It is now coordinated by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health to spread awareness and end the stigma surrounding mental illness. With mental health awareness on the rise, it’s important for employers to be aware of what they can and should do regarding employee’s mental health.

Mental Health vs. Mental Illness

Mental illness is oftentimes referred to as the “invisible impairment.” It’s nearly impossible to tell when someone is suffering from mental illness, but its effects are real and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Mental illness is different from mental health. While everyone has mental health, not everyone has a mental illness. We all exist on a mental health continuum, and we can move into the injured or illness stage if we do not look after our mental well-being.

Two of the most common mental health disorders are major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders, which are estimated to be associated with at least 12 billion days of lost productivity a year globally (Statistics Canada, 2020). A recent report from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans revealed that 24% to 25% of Canadian employers report the prevalence of depression and anxiety in their workplace, respectively. Additionally, 8% reported sleep disorders, ADD/ADHD, and alcohol addiction (International Foundation, 2021).

The Cost of Mental Illness

According to research from the Global Burden of Disease project, mental disorders have accounted for at least 14% of years of life lost due to disability since 1990 (Statistics Canada, 2020). In Canada alone, the economic cost of mental illness in 2021 was projected to be $79.9 billion; upwards of $2.5 trillion is estimated to accumulate by 2041 (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 2020). These costs include direct costs such as healthcare costs, accommodation costs, and staff replacement costs, and indirect costs such as absenteeism and presenteeism, training time, and customer relationships.

The human cost of mental illness can also not be overlooked. Mental illness is serious, real, and can be debilitating to those who experience it. Those who feel stigmatized or discriminated against because of their illness are less likely to speak up about their illness, which can prevent them from getting the help they need. Without preventative mental health action for these individuals, the costs of mental illness, both personally and financially, exponentially rise.

The Effects of Mental Illness in the Workplace

When an employee’s mental health is not well, they are not able to do their best work. Some of the most common effects mental illness has on work performance include the following:

  • Decreased ability to plan and execute a process without structure or guidance
  • Short-term memory impairments
  • Auditory processing impairments
  • Decreased attention, problem solving and sequencing
  • Working memory impairments
  • Increased anxiety over work-performance

In some instances, an employee may need an accommodation for their mental health in the workplace. Employers have a duty to accommodate employees with disabilities – mental and physical – which means modifying the work, work process, or work environment to allow a worker with a disability to achieve the outcome of the job.

What Can Employers Do?

The best way to maintain mental health and prevent illness in the workplace is to take preventative action. Here are some tips to be proactive in preventing the negative impact of mental illness:

  • Hire an Occupational Therapist to complete assessments that will inform you on the customized resources the employee can benefit from to improve their mental well-being. You can begin the referral process here.
  • Promote a stigma-free environment and ensure that negative comments will not be tolerated.
  • Train managers on how to create a safe and trusting atmosphere; ensure employees know they can turn to you in time of need. Register your team of managers in Manager Mental Health Training.
  • Provide education on the topic of mental health and mental illness for a better understanding. See our training opportunities here.
  • Ensure you are following your duty to accommodate in situations where it is necessary.
  • Provide resources to your employees: this could include Occupational Therapy interventioncrisis lines, counselors, what your health benefits plan includes in terms of mental health coverage, etc.

Works Cited

“Fast Facts about Mental Health and Mental Illness,” Canadian Mental Health Association, July 19, 2021, https://cmha.ca/brochure/fast-facts-about-mental-illness/

“Workplace Mental Health – A Review and Recommendations,” Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, January 6, 2020, https://www.camh.ca/-/media/files/workplace-mental-health/workplacementalhealth-a-review-and-recommendations-pdf.pdf?la=en&hash=5B04D442283C004D0FF4A05E3662F39022268149#:~:text=1%20Every%20week%20at%20least,billion%20resulting%20from%20lost%20productivity.

“Trends in the prevalence of depression and anxiety disorders among working-age Canadian adults between 2000 and 2016,” Statistics Canada, Kathleen G. Dobson, Simone N. Vigod, Cameron Mustard, and Peter M. Smith, December 16, 2020, https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-003-x/2020012/article/00002-eng.htm

“COVID-19 Creates Shift in Mental Health Benefits Over Past Two Years,” International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, Anne Patterson, August 24, 2021, https://blog.ifebp.org/index.php/mental-health-benefits-covid

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