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Mental health at work: revisited

(by April Scott-Clarke, Benefits Canada)


Depression and anxiety tend to affect people during their prime working years. These conditions impact cognitive, interpersonal and motivational skills—all critical elements to being productive at work. And, they are the fastest rising cause of short- and long-term disability.


“Workplaces are a high source of stress for most people,” says Joti Samra, clinical psychologist and adjunct professor and scientist with the Faculty of Health Sciences Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, during her recent presentation at the Canadian Health and Wellness Innovations Conference, hosted by the International Foundation of Employee Benefits Plans in Las Vegas.


That’s not to say that all workplaces need to be happiness and butterflies at all time. Samra points out that optimal amounts of stress—also called eustress—stimulates and motivates people. “Stress is part of any business or organization,” she says. “The kinds of workplace factors that we know can increase mental health instances aren’t just usual factors.”


She says individuals who experience a high degree of workplace stress are twice as likely to have a diagnosable disorder.


The factors that have been shown to induce high amounts of stress—or distress—for people include:


  • high demand with low control over those demands;
  • lack of perceived support and recognition;
  • dysfunctional relationship between a co-worker or manager;
  • job insecurity; and
  • work/life imbalance.


While there’s no straight answer to whether these factors directly cause psychological conditions, they may increase the likelihood or occurrence of a mental health condition, make an existing condition worse or impede effective treatment.


Financial risks
Most employers know that having a workplace that is psychologically healthy is more conducive to overall business objectives. People with a mental health condition are also likely to be ill and have workplace accidents. Absenteeism and presenteeism increase, as do extended benefits claims and disability claims. Not to mention, legislation was passed earlier this year that now makes having a psychologically safe workplace a must, rather than a “nice to have”.



What can employers do?
“We now need to pay attention to broader workplace factors,” says Samra, adding that people often wait until there is a problem or crisis before they address it.


“When there is bullying in the workplace, it doesn’t come out of the blue,” she explains. “What happens, everyone knows but nobody does anything about it, which makes it hard to deal with.”


Employers need to create psychologically safe and healthy workplaces by addressing issues that may be currently affecting the workplace. They also need to educate employees and managers on acceptable behaviour and demands. She adds that training managers and supervisors to better deal with sensitive issues is another step in the right direction.


Workplaces don’t need to solve mental health issues but they need not be a source of them.


Free employer resources and tools:

Free employer resources and tools:
Guarding Minds @ Work

Consortium for Organizational Mental Healthcare (COMH)

Related articles:
Easing employees back to work after mental health leave
Mitigate mental health issues in the workplace
Mental matters

© Copyright 2012 Rogers Publishing Ltd. Originally published on
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