Mental health in the workplace

Earlier this month, annual Mental Health Awareness week strove to increase our understanding of the widespread impact of mental health concerns in our country. One in five Canadians will personally experience a mental health disorder over the course of his or her lifetime.

Over the next few weeks, the Perspectives column will focus on mental health and wellbeing in our community, spiritually and in the workplace. Given the years of one’s lifetime spent at a place of employment, a mentally healthy workplace can have a major impact (whether positively or negatively) on individuals. The Canadian Institute for Health Information published a Mentally Healthy Communities: A Collection of Papers that addresses multiple areas that impact mental health.

Approximately 20-30% of claims for disability in Canada are related to mental health impairment, and additionally often underlies physical complaints. An article written by Dr. Mark Lau and Melody Munro, two researchers at UBC, outlines the factors involved in mental health and the workplace. Addressing mental health wellness in the workplace needs a two-pronged approach- improving the workplace environment, as well as building individual resiliency. Lau and Munro suggest that a workplace that has well clarified roles, a reasonable workload, and positive relationships between workers is a healthier place. Training managers to recognize and provide support to employees who are struggling is also an important piece. Strategies to increase individual resiliency include training employees in relaxation and stress reduction. Also, important are healthy habits around nutrition and exercise for individuals to maintain mental health. Unfortunately, all employers are not created equally. In one of my high school jobs a coworker missed several shifts due to the death of a close friend and our manager groused about it to the rest of the staff. This did not contribute to a work environment supportive of mental health and wellbeing since a key component to encouraging mental wellness in the workplace is employer supportiveness. For example, if an employee has been off work due to depression or anxiety ensuring that employees are given opportunities to come back to work gradually can have a huge impact on their continued mental health.

There are resources out there for readers who are interested in learning more about promoting mental health in their workplace. The Canadian Mental Health Association (www.cmha.ca) has an online Work/Life balance quiz and suggestions and resources for helping improve a health and sustainable balance. The Here to Help website (www.heretohelp.bc.ca) has a great collection of fact sheets, tool kits, and other resources to address a wide variety of mental health and addiction concerns.

On May 18th there is a free public forum at the UFV theatre put on by the Chilliwack Social Research and Planning Council. The panelists, consisting of mental health professionals, represent the areas of health, addictions, Aboriginal, children, and social development. This is an opportunity to learn how individuals within our community can contribute to a more mentally healthy community.

Marie Amos, MA, RCC, is a Mental Health Therapist with Child and Youth Mental Health of MCFD, Chilliwack.

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