tackling mental health in the workplace
Globe and Mail: By VIRGINIA GALT,
WORKPLACE REPORTER: Tuesday, April 12, 2005 Page B1
Mental health problems, such as stress and depression, have reached such
crisis proportions in the workplace that a coalition of senior business
leaders will announce its backing tomorrow for comprehensive research aimed
at creating healthier work environments.
With mental disability now accounting for an estimated 30 to 40 per cent of
the disability claims being recorded by Canada's major insurers and
employers, the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and
Mental Health is poised to announce two major research initiatives aimed at
identifying management practices that lead to -- or exacerbate -- depression
and mental illness among employees.
Employers have "beaten the safety problem" to a large extent, said former
federal finance minister Michael Wilson, who has recently been appointed by
the federal government in Ottawa to act as a special adviser on mental
But there is far less understanding -- or action -- on mental health issues,
which can be aggravated by working conditions or a reluctance of employees
to seek help, Mr. Wilson said.
Mr. Wilson, president and chief executive officer of Toronto-based UBS
Global Asset Management (Canada) Co., lost his 29-year-old son, Cameron, to
suicide in 1995.
Employers are becoming increasingly aware of the rising costs of disability
claims from employees suffering from stress and depression, Mr. Wilson said.
Far less is known about the cost of lost productivity by employees who
continue to work while suffering from these conditions.
A study to be led by the Harvard Medical School will survey more than
100,000 Canadian employees to document the cost benefits of early and
effective treatment of depression in the labour force, particularly among
men and women in their prime working years, Mr. Wilson said.
In a second major research initiative, to be announced tomorrow, the
Canadian Institutes for Health Research will embark this summer on 10 years
of applied research on mental health in the workplace.
|Bill Wilkerson, chief executive officer of the business
and economic roundtable, said yesterday his organization will help raise
money for the research projects and will enlist employers to volunteer their
workplaces "as laboratories for the research." One of the goals is to
"eliminate the most egregious forms of chronic job stress at source," he
Uncertainty about job security, "management practices which isolate people
from information [and] the relentless treadmill effect at work" all
contribute to soaring stress loads, he said.
Quirion, who will co-ordinate the research at the CIHR, a national public
research agency, said he hopes one outcome of the project will be to reduce
the stigma still associated with mental illness. "Mental illness is more of
an issue than back pain, for example. People are suffering from burnout, but
it's not properly recognized because of stigma; employees are afraid to talk
about it for fear of losing their job."
Yet, added Mr. Wilson, there can be "tragic consequences" when people are
afraid to seek treatment or ask their employers and co-workers for help. He
related in a recent interview that his son did not want his battle with
depression widely known because he was afraid it would affect his employment
Dr. Quirion said employers are more willing than they were in the past to
help employees suffering from stress and depression, "but there is still
very little in the way of best practices."
The scope of the research will be announced this summer, said Dr. Quirion,
who said he would like to see studies on people who thrive under pressure as
well as on those who are struggling. He agreed with Mr. Wilkerson that young
working adults are the most vulnerable to stress and depression.
"As a young person, you want to move ahead in your work. You work hard to
show that you have the ability for it, that you are productive, that you are
dynamic, that you have new ideas," Dr. Quirion said.
Business could be doing more to help, Mr. Wilson said.
"One of the dreams that I have is that we replicate with mental illness what
has [successfully] been done with safety in the workplace