The average Canadian spends roughly 40 hours per week at work. Those days are often spent filing, lifting, sweating, serving or teaching. Some may enjoy their work; others may spend their work days dreaming of how they’ll spend their downtime.
What every employee has in common though is that each and every one of them has mental health. Everyone has mental health. A spectrum that flows fluidly from being mentally healthy, to even potentially mentally ill. While we all live with that mental health spectrum, approximately one in five will experience mental distress in a given year.
For that one in five, daily work can become a all new challenge. The Mental Health Commission of Canada reports that mental health problems account for approximately 30 per cent of both long and short-term disability claims every year. That’s nearly a third of all claims. Many others are afflicted by the phenomenon referred to as “presenteeism”. The idea that the distress hasn’t actually kept the employee from going to work, but they are unable to work to their full capability.
We’re great at taking care of our physical health. We get training on WHMIS, lifting, working from heights and even how to sit properly in our chairs. What about our mental health? What are we doing to help our employees? What can we do to help our employees? It’s actually much simpler than most believe. In January of 2013, the Canadian Standards Association released the Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace Standard. This voluntary standard provides employers with a clear path to creating a psychologically healthy and safe work environment.
Encourage employers to provide education and awareness for staff and leaders in the form of Mental Health First Aid; engaging employees as mental health champions and create new avenues to recognize employee efforts. All different ways that have been shown to create a healthier workplace. While the standard remains voluntary, the benefits are clear. It will change organizational culture.
Individually I would encourage every employee in their workplace to become a mental health champion. If you work in a company of five employees or even 5,000 employees, they all deserve complete mental health and wellness. (Even their supervisors!) Starting the conversation is the first step in reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness. Look for these opportunities within your workplace. Maybe it’s a walking group at lunch, or a cookie exchange or even a casual Friday. Sometimes making big change can be simple and affordable.
A key support for mental health in the workplace often sits right under our noses. We have all received messages, emails or memos about our own Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), but how many of us have actually utilized it? Most are available 24 hours per day, with easy access to skilled mental health clinicians. For those employees without an EAP, look to supports available within your community. Connecting with family doctors, nurse practitioners and community agencies like the Canadian Mental Health Association. The local CMHA Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge Branch offers mental health supports to employees and employers alike.
It’s important to remember that our mental health is a part of us. Just because I have to come to work, my mental health doesn’t go on pause. Work doesn’t have to make my mental health worse, it can actually make it better. If you can make sure to take care of your brain, you’ll know your brain will be able to take care of you.