Prioritizing Mental Health in Your Small Business

by Thom Tracy

3 min read

The Mental Health Commission of Canada reports that mental illness is the foremost cause of Canadian disability claims. A 2010 MHCC study estimates that costs associated with mental illness sap $50 billion a year from Canada’s economy, representing 3.2% of gross domestic product in 2015.

Social and Economic Cost of Mental Illness

Every year, 20% of Canadians experience a mental illness. That percentage rises when examining the nation’s youth. Nearly three out of every 10 young adults from the ages of 20 to 29 undergo a mental episode in a given year. By the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, half of them will have a mental illness or past experience with one.

As the population rises, some studies predict that the total cost of mental illness in Canada could top $2.5 trillion by 2040. In 2011, Canadian businesses lost over $6 billion in lost productivity from turnover, absenteeism, and presenteeism. This staggering figure is poised to grow to over $200 billion in total productivity loss by 2040.

Advantages of a Healthy Workplace and Home

Luckily, small changes can lead to big results. If the amount of Canadian citizens who experience new mental episodes can be reduced by 10%, then the economy could be spared the cost of $4 billion a year. Seeing that it is the most feasible to prevent mental illnesses in young people, this figure is quite attainable. Through parent education, family support, and early intervention, the rates of youth mental illness drop. Programs that assist citizens in accessing treatment early, or help them stay out of the penal system or hospital, can generate considerable cost savings. In fact, experts estimate that 10% to 25% of disability costs related to mental health can be prevented by taking immediate action.

It is well-known that stress can intensify certain people’s mental illnesses. A report by Statistics Canada found that employees who were moderately to severely stressed most days were three times more likely to endure a major depressive episode than their co-workers. Stress does not directly cause mental illness, but it makes it exceedingly difficult for someone with a fragile state of mind to improve mental health.

Accommodating Mental Health in the Workplace

To improve the mental well-being of your workers, consider a few of these suggestions:

  • Offer a gradual return to work: If you have an employee returning to work after a mental health-related leave of absence, offer a gradual return to work, if possible. This could mean less days a week or a shorter workday.
  • Encourage open communication: The social stigma surrounding mental illness is still very real, especially in the office. Because of this, it is best to honestly emphasize to your workers how important their health, specifically mental health, and well-being is to not only you, but the company as a whole. Encourage them to seek you out if they have any concerns, problems, or suggestions on how to better their work experience. This results in happier workers and a stronger business.
  • Flexibility is important: People, mentally ill or not, are more productive at different times of the day. This is even more true for those with mental issues, whose potential medications could make it difficult for them to be at work early in the morning. If feasible, consider flexible scheduling for some or all of your employees, especially those battling a mental disorder.
  • Provide written instructions: Those experiencing mental trauma tend to have worse short-term memory, on average, compared to their peers. Write down instructions for these workers whenever possible.

Resources

As a small business owner, your first go-to resource for addressing mental health is the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace workbook. This voluntary standard provides systematic guidelines for employers within Canada, giving them a greater ability to create and continuously improve psychologically healthy work environments for employees. Since the workbook’s 2013 release, mental health awareness within the workplace has grown considerably.

Another tool is Canada’s Mental Health First Aid. MHFA assists business owners, managers, and employees in boosting their awareness of the signs of common mental health issues and how to help a co-worker if encountering a crisis. Derived from a Department of National Defence program, “The Working Mind,” it aims to promote mental wellness. Designed for the use of both employees and managers, The Working Mind also works to reduce the stigmas surrounding mental illness. If you still seek further information, Safe at Work Ontario and WorkSafeBC provide over 100 resources dedicated to a variety of mental health issues, from providing help to employees facing domestic violence at home to assisting clients with dementia.

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