Northern Life - Start the Conversation July 31, 2014

Would you be comfortable talking to your manager about a mental-health issue you were experiencing?

Would you fear you would be judged or perhaps fired after revealing to your employer that you were struggling with mental health?

According to Health Canada, one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. The remaining four will have a friend, family member or colleague who will.

With so many individuals suffering in silence, it’s time to start the conversation to remove the stigma that mental illness is something to be ashamed of. Keep in mind, mental illness is not just disorders like severe depression, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

It can include anxiety disorders, attention deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and simple day-to-day stress.

“Mental health is a significant business issue that requires the attention of organizations,” said Karla Thorpe, associate director for compensation and industrial relations with the Conference Board of Canada. “People who experience mental-health issues face incredible challenges in the workplace. Many are misunderstood, shunned and underutilized.”

In a world where shortages of critical skills are top of mind for many organizations, employers cannot afford to allow this situation to continue, she added.

In January 2013, Canada released a voluntary national standard for psychological health and safety in the workplace, designed to guide employers through the process of implementing supportive strategies for their employees.

Although this is still a voluntary standard, it is certainly a great start as we begin to open up the dialogue for employees struggling with mental health issues.
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) offers a few ways to help you approach mental health at work:

1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help: Take courses or participate in workshops; use external sources of information like websites, workbooks, audio and video sources; and access clinical treatment;

2. Build a support system: Develop caring relationships; create workplace connections; and become involved in your community;

3. Remember daily tips: Learn to cope with negative thoughts; be present; enjoy different hobbies; eat healthy and be active; and treat yourself well.

If you are between the ages of 18 and 65, you are the heart and soul of the Canadian economy. If you are dealing with a mental health issue, this will be affecting your daily performance at work.

With mental health in the workplace costing companies $51 billion a year in lost productivity, we need to slow it down now.

Help others and yourself — start talking about mental health in the workplace. It is just a conversation.

About the Author Lisa Lounsbury