Canadians are still afraid to speak about mental health at work

In a given week we spend almost a quarter of our waking hours at work, which can have a significant impact on overall health and wellness.


According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), every year 1 in 5 Canadians has personally experienced anxiety, depression or another form of mental illness, but yet, in Ontario for example, 39 per cent of workers said that they wouldn’t tell their bosses if they were experiencing a mental health problem.

Alongside the negative impact mental health has on an individual, it contributes to a yearly $50 billion price tag on the Canadian economy.

If that isn’t enough, we know that happy and healthy employees are more productive and take less sick days. And that every $1 invested in health and wellness generates $3 in return.


Why aren’t employees speaking up about mental health?


Although more people are aware of mental health issues than they were a few years ago, stigmas still exist that prevent people from willingly talking about their state of mind and in many cases leaders aren’t prepared to proactively deal with these situations.

While companies are taking action to provide resources to employees, we need to ensure this enables people to be more open to discussing how they’re feeling.

We all have a role to play in the workplace – from the individual to the CEO.

One of the best examples of both an employee and a CEO “getting it” was the email exchange between Madalyn Parker of the software company Olark and CEO Ben Congleton that went viral in June.

When Parker sent a note to her team saying she was taking a couple sick days for mental health reasons, Congleton responded with the following:

“I just wanted to personally thank you for sending emails like this. Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health.”


What can employers do to encourage conversations about mental health?


As employers, we need to constantly find new ways to create an inclusive and supportive workplace.

At RSA Canada, we recently partnered with Not Myself Today ®. The program provides information, tools and resources to raise awareness and understanding of mental health, reduce stigma around the topic, and help build a psychologically safe and supportive work culture.

As part of the program rollout, pins depicting different states of mind were placed in various spots around our offices; for instance: wired, anxious and zen. Employees were encouraged to – quite literally – wear their hearts on their sleeve, providing the perfect opportunity to start many positive conversations about mental health. Some of our people even shared their personal stories on Yammer, our enterprise social networking site.

We’ve also incorporated LifeWorks, an employee resource offering confidential support and services for work, life, family, health, and financial matters, among others. The program includes 24/7 consultations, information, access to counselling (by phone, live video, chat and in person), community referrals, a secure desktop website and a mobile app.

But, this is just the beginning.

As employers we all have a responsibility to continually re-evaluate what we are doing by monitoring the impact of different interventions and evolving your practices based on respective workplace needs.


So, what is your workplace doing to encourage positive mental health?


Know that by simply starting to talk about it – whether here on LinkedIn or elsewhere – just like the Olark software company example, you may be giving a colleague the courage to finally open up and that is a critical first step.

Mark Edgar

Mark Edgar – a recovering CHRO and Founder of Goat Rodeo Project, a consulting firm designed to help you predict and avoid train wrecks. For the avoidance of doubt, we’re in a goat rodeo. Follow me on LinkedIn and Twitter for more HR-related ramblings. It would be great to catch-up.