The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that around one in every five Canadians will suffer from some form of mental illness in their lifetime. Most frequently, mental illness takes the form of anxiety or depression disorders, but it can also materialize as personality disorders, schizophrenia, and organic brain disorders.
Mental illness can often lead to other serious health problems. In many cases, an untreated mental illness can lead to any of the following:
- Heart problems
- Muscle aches and pains
- Certain types of cancer
- Impaired learning/memory
- Substance abuse
Workplaces have an important role to play in managing mental illness. Many people develop mental illnesses as a result of work-related strain or stress, and since most people spend around 60% of their waking hours at work, mental illness and work are often forced to interact with one another. There are a few ways that you can manipulate your workplace to make it more conducive to protecting and prioritizing the mental health of your employees:
1. Maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Often, stress-related mental illnesses arise when the person is so preoccupied with work duties that they do not make adequate time for leisure, relaxation, quality time with loved ones, and self-care. Consider implementing a policy to ensure that your employees are engaging in a healthy work-life balance (e.g.: you might reinforce that employees are under no obligation to check their emails or pagers while not at work, etc.).
2. Promote a healthy, supportive organizational culture.
Refuse to tolerate destructive behaviours like bullying, gossip, and harassment. Impose strict consequences for employees engaging in these behaviours, and encourage people to come forward if they witness it.
3. Implement recognition and reward programs.
Employees who feel valued by their employer often experience deeper job satisfaction than those who don’t. Start an employee of the month program, publicly recognize employees for outstanding accomplishments, and have incentives like gift cards or company swag for employees who are performing well.
4. Implement a ZERO TOLERANCE POLICY for substance abuse in the workplace.
Substance use and abuse can exacerbate existing mental illnesses and lead to harmful addictions. If you suspect an employee has a problem with substance abuse, please refer them to a Substance Abuse Professional for evaluation.
5. Encourage and foster a culture of open communication.
If your employees feel comfortable coming to you, they will be able to communicate problems they may be having before these problems gets serious.
6. Be flexible.
People living with mental illness sometimes require certain accommodations at work in order to perform at their best. It’s important to be flexible and accommodate your workers wherever possible. For example, you may need to adjust or reassign some of your employee’s work duties, be open to having work completed at different times of the day, or allow shorter but more frequent breaks.
As mental health problems continue to affect the Canadian workforce, it is important that employers take responsibility for lessening the impact of mental illness. It takes only a little compassion to make a big difference!