With mental illness affecting 20 per cent of the Canadian population, the impact on the workplace is significant given that it’s the No. 1 cause of disability and represents 70 per cent of the cost of disability claims.

But statistics don’t necessarily present a true picture of the prevalence or impact of mental illness in the workplace since many people don’t talk to their doctor or seek help because of stigma, said Ray Parker, director of group disability and rehabilitation at Desjardins Insurance, during his presentation at the recent Mental Health Summit in Vancouver.

“That’s the elephant in the room, and it’s a big problem,” he said. “For the most part, the conversation isn’t happening, and we’re not having the co-operation, the partnerships or the strategic planning on the scale we should to deal with it.”

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Parker described four major pillars for the optimal management of mental health in the workplace: prevention, intervention, time management and communication.

“With prevention, we encourage employers to work closely with insurers, brokers and consultants,” he said, adding there are a lot of programs that can get employees help early and keep them on the job. Besides online resource centres, one-on-one professional support and personalized assistance, Parker said it’s important to seek feedback on the programs. “Why not ask employees to rate their experience with the employer or insurer in regards to their disability? You can’t manage what you don’t measure.”

While privacy and confidentiality are important considerations, Parker said employers can make sure the programs are doing what they need to do for employees at the right time and the right price. “Ask your insurer, broker and/or consultant what the plans are for people off work with mental illness,” he said. “Some companies are getting involved in these discussions, and we get the best results when we are all involved as a group.”

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Ideas for optimal management of mental illness include intelligent triage, early intervention, dedicated claims specialists and prompt and sustainable return to work. And when it comes to communication, Parker suggested employers keep in contact with employees who are off on disability. “We’ve seen great results from employers who initiate contact every two weeks or every month. It doesn’t always have to be a phone call. Sometimes, it can be an email or an invitation to a team meeting or a seasonal party. Small gestures can lead to big results.”

Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com