October is Canada’s Healthy Workplace Month

October 5th, 2015

October is Canada’s Healthy Workplace Month! What makes a healthy workplace? Canada’s Healthy Workplace Month (CHWM) talks about four elements of a healthy workplace; Healthy Lifestyles, Workplace Culture and Mental Health, Physical Environment and Corporate Social Responsibility. You can go to their website at www.healthyworkplacemonth.ca for ideas on how to address all four of these elements at work.

As the Manager of Counselling and Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) the second element, Workplace Culture and Mental Health, is one of my passions. Did you know that in any given year 1 in 5 of us will experience a mental illness[i]? And most of the rest of us will know someone who will. It really does affect us all. As many of us spend most of our waking hours at work, workplaces are in a unique position to recognize the signs of mental illness or distress and to assist workers in getting treatment.

Over 500 000 Canadians miss work every day due to mental health issues[1]. In a recent Canadian study, 82% of responding organizations ranked mental health issues in their top three causes of short term disability [ii]. The workplace can’t afford not to look at mental health issues. Beyond that, workplaces have a legal duty to provide a psychologically healthy workplace. While workplaces are not usually responsible for causing mental health issues, they can contribute to mental distress and workplace factors and can increase the likelihood of the occurrence of a disorder, make an existing disorder worse and impede effective treatment. A supportive environment can reduce the onset, severity, impact and duration of a mental health disorder[iii].

Okay, so we know mental health affects us all, we know it makes good business sense to address it and we know that it is part of a workplace’s legal responsibility. So now what?

There are lots of things workplaces can do to address mental health in the workplace. The first step is to increase awareness. Those working in human resources, managers or other workplace representatives may want to consider taking a course on Psychological First Aid, which provides basic information on mental health issues and how to intervene. Another resource is from the Mental Health Commission of Canada which has championed the new Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace Standard (2013), and both the standard and an implementation guide are available for free download from www.mentalhealthcomission.ca.

EAPs can also be great resources to employees, managers and organizations. Many provide workshops, orientations, on-site supports and management consultations along with individual counselling and services. It is important that employees know the range of services available to them. If your organization has an EAP, it is important that everyone knows how to access it when they need it. If your organization doesn’t have an EAP, maybe it’s time to consider one. With Healthy Workplace Month just upon us, it’s a great time to commit to improving the psychological health of your organization!

Kirsten Armbrust, MSW, RSW
Manager of Counselling and EAP

[i] CAMH

[ii] Mental Health Commission of Canada

[iii] CARMA