Mental Health has long since been a taboo subject of conversation. For a long time it was considered polite to mind your own business and to avoid drawing attention to or question another person’s mental health issues. However, with upcoming legislative changes in Bill 30, employers have even more responsibilities to ensure the wellbeing of their workers including their mental health. Part 2 of the OHS Code (Hazard Assessment) states that employers must ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of all workers at their work site. This includes psychological hazards. The government of Alberta defines a psychological hazard as “a situation, condition or thing that may affect the mental health of the worker and may result in physical effects by overwhelming individual coping mechanisms and impacting the workers ability to work in a safe and healthy manner.”
Mental Health is described by Alberta Health Services as “a positive concept that means more than simply the absence of mental illness. It is the ability to be resilient and to cope well with life’s challenges and setbacks. Optimal mental health means getting the most out of life, or flourishing.” While the term Mental Illness is a broad classification for many mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, stress, and substance abuse issues.
Mental health issues are quite common, with an average of one in five Canadians experiencing a mental health illness or issue in any given year. During a person’s early working years, these rates can peak with more than 28% of 20-29 year olds being affected. Nearly 50% of Canadians will have had an experience with a mental health problem or illness by the time they are 40 years old.
Mental illness and mental health issues affect people from all cultures and backgrounds and no one is immune. The cause of mental health problems is very complex and the types of mental health illnesses vary greatly in severity, symptoms and treatment. Concurrent disorders are also common. A concurrent disorder is described as a situation in which a person has a mental health disorder and a substance abuse disorder. A person may turn to substance abuse in an effort to attempt to make their mental health issue “feel better” or to help them forget about their problems. In these cases, it may be more effective for an employer to attempt to recognize the symptoms of the substance abuse, then they can try to determine if there is also a mental health issue present.
In one study, mental health issues and mental illness cost an estimated $51 billion annually, as well as approximately 35 million workdays in lost time alone, which is a huge financial burden on the Canadian economy. It is estimated that one third of all disability related claims are due to short-term and long-term mental disability claims. The cost of these claims is approximately $15 to $33 billion annually.
In addition to the financial burden, there are other effects that mental health can have on a company such as low employee morale, low employee production rates and strained co-worker relationships. Some mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, can greatly impact a person’s ability to work effectively. The worker may be distracted while at work which can result in the worker making mistakes or not getting anything accomplished. Or they may not even show up for work at all.
The presence of an Employee Assistance Program that allows workers to access support services can greatly improve an employer’s success in managing mental health and wellness within the company. Some ways to ensure that your workplace supports the mental health of its workers can include:
- Implement an Employee Assistance Program which allows the employee access to various resources within their community and provide employees with the contact numbers to contact the Employee Assistance Program.
- Educate workers about Mental Health awareness and encourage open discussions during meetings or training sessions
- Develop and enforce a zero-tolerance policy and program for violence and harassment in the workplace
While legislative changes are requiring that employers make changes in their companies to ensure the health and wellbeing of their workers, employers are also beginning to realize that it’s time to step up to the plate and address these kinds of issues head on instead of sweeping them under the mat and pretending as though they don’t exist. By creating a company culture that promotes respect in the workplace and provides support to its workers, that’s how real changes are made.
For more information on Mental Health Awareness in the workplace or for assistance in developing a Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy or implementing an Employee Assistance Program, please contact us at Safety Ahead (780-473-4772) and we would be happy to help you out!
Alberta Health Services
Mental Health Commission of Canada