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Workplaces, Mental Health, Facts & Fiction

The burden of mental health disorders on health and productivity has long been under-estimated. The Canadian healthcare system is facing tremendous pressures that are likely to grow within the next decade. Because of the extent and pervasiveness of mental health problems, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes mental health as a top priority. We now know that the problems of mental illness loom large around the world- in fact it accounts for 12% of all disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs), and 23% in high-income countries.

The Challenge and the Supporting Stats

Drug costs, wellness, and the escalating challenges of chronic mental disorders and its impact on the workplace continue to be at the forefront of employer concerns.  Some Insights on the state of disability claims across Canada paints a grim picture of absenteeism and disability costs. Here are some quick facts about psychological health issues at workplaces provided by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, as well as the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety:

  • 1 in 5 Canadians experience a psychological health problem or illness in any given year, and psychological health problems & mental illnesses are the number one cause of disability in Canada.
  • 40% of Canadians report that their mental health has disrupted their lives.
  • 47% of working Canadians consider their work to be the most stressful part of daily life.
  • Depression and anxiety are only two of many mental health conditions and they alone cost the Canadian economy an estimated $49.6 billion per year.
  • Overall, psychological health problems cost the Canadian economy $70 billion per year (in terms of absenteeism, productivity, indemnities, healthcare and reduced quality of life)
  • $20 billion of which results from work-related causes and 17% of Canadians report that they have taken time away from work and school to deal with a personal mental health issue. In any given week, at least 500,000 employed Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems. This includes:
  • approximately 355,000 disability cases due to mental and/or behavioral disorders.
  • approximately 175,000 full-time workers absent from work due to mental illness.
  • 8% of Canadians report that they have taken time away from work to help a family member or close friend with their mental illness.
  • Only 23% of Canadian workers would feel comfortable talking to their employer about a psychological health issue.

Psychological health problems typically affect mid-career workers the most, lowering the productivity of the Canadian workforce. Five of the 10 leading causes of disability worldwide are mental problems (major depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, alcohol use and obsessive-compulsive disorders). These disorders – together with anxiety, depression and stress – have a definitive impact on any working population and ideally should be addressed within that context, as they may also develop into long-term disorders with accompanying forms of disability. Given the fact that numerous affordable interventions exist, the time has come to challenge both the low priority given to mental health and the stigma that those with mental ill-health still endure around the world.

Dispelling Myths

Mental illnesses affect everyone in some way. We’re all likely know someone who has experienced a mental illness at some point. Yet there are still many hurtful attitudes around mental illnesses that fuel stigma and discrimination and make it harder to reach out for help. It’s time to dispel the myths and look at facts surrounding mental health at work. It’s also important to consider how it may affect your organization and how to cost-effectively build preventative & treatment solutions that are practical & supports the well-being of employees.

Myth #1: Mental illnesses aren’t real illnesses.

The words used to describe mental illnesses have changed greatly over time. Telling someone to just “get over it” Is not the norm anymore. What hasn’t changed is the fact that mental illnesses are not the regular ups and downs of life. Most mental illnesses create distress (sometimes severe), don’t go away on their own and are real health problems with effective treatments.

Myth #2: Mental illnesses won’t ever affect me.

All of us to some degree are affected by mental illnesses. Researchers estimate that as many as one in five Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness in any given year. Some of us have better coping mechanisms than others. You may not experience a mental illness yourself, but it’s very likely that a family member, friend, or co-worker will experience challenges. In fact, many mental illnesses first appear when a person is young, but they may look different in children than in adults.

Myth #3: Mental illness is just an excuse for poor behavior.

In a workplace setting, or at home, it’s true that some people who experience mental illnesses may act in ways that are unexpected or seem strange to others. No one chooses to experience a mental illness. We need to remember that the illness, is a big contributor to this behavior. People who experience a change in their behavior due to a mental illness may feel extremely embarrassed or ashamed around others. It’s also true that people with a history of a mental illness are like anyone else: they may make poor choices or do something unexpected for reasons unrelated to symptoms of their illness.

Myth #4: People with mental illnesses can’t work.

Whether you realize it or not, mental illness is a lot more common at workplaces than you think. Having one however doesn’t mean that someone is no longer capable of working. Some people benefit from accommodative changes at work to support their goals, but many people work with few supports from their employer. Most people who experience serious mental illnesses want to work but face systemic barriers to finding and keeping meaningful employment.

Myth #5: People who experience mental illnesses are weak & can’t handle stress.

Stress does impacts one’s well-being, but this is true for everyone. People who experience mental illnesses may actually be better at managing stress than people who haven’t experienced mental illnesses. Many people who experience mental illnesses learn coping skills like stress management and problem-solving so they can take care of stress before it affects their well-being. Taking care of yourself and asking for help when you need it are signs of personal strength, not weakness.

Myth #6: People with mental illnesses are violent and dangerous.

It is important to note that people who experience mental illnesses are much more likely to be victims of violence than to be violent. Researchers agree that mental illnesses are not a good predictor of violence, primarily because the causes of violence are complicated.  In fact, if we look at mental illnesses on their own, people who experience a mental illness are no more violent than people without a mental illness. Excluding people from communities, however, is linked to violence. And people with mental illnesses are often among those who are excluded.

Myth #7: People don’t recover from mental illnesses.

Fact: People can and do recover from mental illnesses. Today, there are many different kinds of treatments, services, and supports that can help. No one should expect to feel unwell forever. The fact is, people who experience mental illnesses can and do lead productive, engaged lives. They work, volunteer, or contribute their unique skills and abilities to their communities. Even when people experience mental illnesses that last for a long time, they can learn how to manage their symptoms so they can get back to their goals. If someone continues to experience many challenges, it may be a sign that different approaches or supports are needed.

What Can We Do About It?

These myths—and many more— help perpetrate stigmas and exclude people with mental illnesses from our communities and create barriers to well-being. If we want to reduce the impact of mental illnesses on our communities. Understanding Facts and challenging our own assumptions and behaviors help to change attitudes and behaviors, but this takes time, but each action can help make a difference.

  • It’s key to know the whole story & consider the big picture. Hearsay is most often sensationalized and doesn’t represent most people’s experiences. Thinking critically about where our information comes from can help us separate sensational stories from balanced points of view.
  • Second, we can all support laws, policies and practices in our communities and workplaces that stop discrimination against people with mental illnesses and promote inclusion. Spending a bit of time with persons you know who experience mental illnesses helps put things into perspective. It also empowers the person suffering and helps create an equal position of power.
  • Well communicated accommodation policies and practices, similar to what organizations would have to meet their obligations for other/physical disabilities, would go a long way in establishing support, dispelling myths, and create a well informed and supportive employee population.
  • Having a robust group benefits plan that comprises effective tools which can better support employees and bring them back to work on a timely basis goes a long way. If you’re not yet a Beneplan client, check out our value proposition and let us help you build a better group benefits plan for your organization. Ask about our free, no obligations quote.
  • Inclusion of cutting-edge support diagnostics like the P3 pharmacogenomic test, offered by Personalized Prescribing Inc. in company group benefits plans also show organizational support for affected employees and provide a path for shortened disability stints with quicker recovery times and a return to “normal” work.

In a report from Dewa et al, Ontario employees who received appropriate care had fewer short-term disability days. So, for every 100 individuals this translated into $50,000 in disability benefit savings (roughly $500 per person for providing reasonable mental health-related accommodations). We now also know, that when essential drugs, if needed, are made available and access is offered to a psychosocial rehabilitation programs (including the access to meaningful and realistic employment) many persons will be able to lead more socially and personally satisfying lives.

Resources

References

  • Smetanin et al. (2011). The life and economic impact of major mental illnesses in Canada: 2011-2041. Prepared for the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Toronto: RiskAnalytica
  • Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (2015). Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study, 2013. Data retrieved from http://www.healthdata.org/data-visualization/gbd-compare.
  • Mental Health Commission of Canada (2014). Why investing in mental health will contribute to Canada’s economic prosperity and to the sustainability of our health care system. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/node/742.
  • Lim et al. (2008). A new population-based measure of the burden of mental illness in Canada. Chronic Diseases in Canada, 28: 92-8.
  • Dewa, Chau, and Dermer (2010). Examining the comparative incidence and costs of physical and mental health-related disabilities in an employed population. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 52: 758-62. Number of disability cases calculated using Statistics Canada employment data, retrieved from http://www40.statcan.ca/l01/cst01/labor21a-eng.htm.
  • Institute of Health Economics (2007). Mental health economics statistics in your pocket. Edmonton: IHE. Number of absent workers calculated using Statistics Canada work absence rates, retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/71-211-x/71-211-x2011000-eng.pdf.