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500,000 Canadians Miss Work Each Week Due To Mental Health Concerns

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A new poll finds 40% of Canadians report their mental health has disrupted their lives in some way over the past year. Nearly one in five missed work or school. As Shirlee Engel reports, the costs to the Canadian economy are staggering.

Jillian Coey was your typical overachieving 22-year-old: she had a full-time course load in university, part-time work, and a handful of extra-curricular activities and volunteer work.

But what most people didn’t know that she kept a secret, too: she was battling depression, anxiety and an eating disorder.

“I was definitely feeling overwhelmed by the symptoms I was experiencing, feelings of failure and developing a sense of hopelessness. The lens you’re looking through is altered because of the mental illness – at the time, I felt that things weren’t going to improve no matter what actions I took,” Coey told Global News.

“It got to the point where it became unbearable and I attempted to take my life,” she said.

Coey ended up in hospital. She knew she wouldn’t make her shift at work the next day, or for the following week.

Her family called her employer and explained her situation. Instead of processing her resignation, her manager suggested Coey take the time to focus on her recovery and return to work when she was ready.

“I thought [quitting] was the only option that was available. My manager let us know I didn’t need to quit and they wanted to keep me at the organization and they wanted to support me,” she said.

Coey said her manager’s understanding helped pave the way to her recovery.

Forty per cent of Canadians say their mental health disrupted their lives in the past year, according to new Ipsos findings released exclusively to Global News.

Seventeen per cent of Canadians say they’ve taken time off work and school to deal with a personal mental health issue.

Another eight per cent say they’ve taken time away from their professional lives to help a family member or close friend grappling with mental illness, the pollsters revealed.

“This could be the catalyst for change in the workplace. While it’s alarming to know that this many people are [taking time off work] it also speaks to people recognizing ‘I’m not myself today and I need to take a mental health break,’” Jennifer McLeod Macey, vice-president of the polling firm’s Health Research Institute, told Global News.

“The pressures of work and life, that all takes a toll. These numbers show Canadians are saying they need to stay home, not because they’re contagious but because they need to take care of themselves,” she said.

It’s the third year the polling firm zeroed in on their Mental Health Risk Index and the report’s release marks Mental Health Week.

Based on Canadians’ levels of stress and feelings of hopelessness and depression, the report classifies a whopping 41 per cent of Canadians as being at “high risk” for mental illness. That’s a significant increase from 2016’s 35 per cent.

Aside from missing work, another 19 per cent of Canadians said they missed social gatherings or family events in the past year because of mental health.

Twenty-three per cent said they’re taking medication to help with their mental health, from stress to depression.

The numbers don’t surprise Ed Mantler, vice-president of programs and priorities at the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

40% of Canadians report their mental health has disrupted their lives in some way over the past year

One in five Canadians will experience a mental health problem over the course of their lifetime. Every week, half a million Canadians are missing work because of a mental health issue, he said.

“Most Canadians work and most of us spend more time at work with colleagues than we do at home with our families. It can be impactful in a positive or harmful way,” he told Global News.

Heather Stuart, a Queen’s University professor and mental health research chair, suggests the numbers may be even higher.

“Mental health issues are the leading cause of short-term and long-term disability. Those people may not be captured in the numbers,” Stuart told Global News.
“Workplaces need to take the mental health issue more seriously and do more to create positive work environments. Employees will be less uncomfortable and less fearful when they see the workplace is designed to help them,” she said.

Employees could be stressed because of factors outside of the workspace, such as finances or relationships, for example. In other cases, it could be the workplace that’s causing distress.

The repercussions vary from person to person: some people could be depressed and dragging themselves into the office, while others could be laser-focused at work. Mental health concerns could make some people unproductive or not focused, irritable or unhappy, but in other manifestations, employees could use it as a distraction.

There is absenteeism, which is when employees call in sick, and presenteeism, which is when employees show up to work but aren’t performing at the level they would normally be at.

Overall, this costs the Canadian economy $50 billion a year, Mantler said.

The good news? Mantler said that most employers are “already well on their way” in addressing mental health. Some companies make it mandatory for managers to take mental health training, while others promote their employee assistance programs.

With the help of the MHCC, Canada issued its first national standard on workplace mental health. It’s a tool unique to Canada, although many countries are already looking at its guidance to employers. It helps workplaces consider the psychological factors at play for employees, from work-life balance to civility and respect to having autonomy and influence over your work.

The Ipsos poll revealed that more Canadians than ever are getting help.

Forty-two per cent of Canadians said they talked to someone about their mental health in the past year, up seven percentage points from last year, and 11 points from two years ago.

Twenty-three per cent said they talked to a primary health-care provider, such as their family doctor, while another 16 per cent reached out to a counsellor, psychiatrist, or psychologist.

Another 10 per cent even wrote about or posted about their mental health woes online – millennials led the way with this openness with 24 per cent sharing their mental health difficulties online in the past year.

But stigma is still prevalent: while some may think taking time for treatment is a weakness, Coey said that’s a major misconception.

The last thing most people living with a mental health condition want is to let their managers, co-workers and loved ones down, she said.

“When I was experiencing mental illness, I was still very dedicated to my work and felt a sense of responsibility to my work,” she said.

She said she’s incredibly fortunate that she received support from her workplace.

“The actions of that manager changed my life. Essentially, the actions she took allowed me to continue working with the organization and go on to have progressively senior roles that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible if I had resigned,” Coey said.

Now, she works full time and volunteers as a mental health advocate. She still grapples with anxiety but has learned coping strategies through ongoing treatment.

On Saturday, Coey is one of the organizers leading the March for Mental Health on Saturday at Toronto’s Nathan Phillips Square. The goal is to call on the federal and provincial governments to treat mental health no differently than physical health. The march’s organizers include those with lived experience of mental illness or loved ones touched by it.

The Ipsos poll was conducted in mid-April 2017. A random sample of Canadian adults were interviewed online for the survey, which was weighted to bring it in line with Canadian demographics and which has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Where to get help

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 
1-800-668-6868  all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

By Carmen Chai    Senior National Online Journalist, Health  Global News    May 5, 2017
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