With mental-health issues reaching crisis levels in Canadian workplaces, employers have options to address the situation as a driver of claims and absences, participants at Benefits Canada’s Healthy Outcomes conference heard.

“There is a mental-health crisis in our workplaces,” said Judith Plotkin, vice-president of growth and strategy at the ReedGroup. “This week alone, 500,000 Canadians are off work due to mental-health issues, and that translates into huge costs for organizations.”

The challenge for organizations, said Plotkin, is that people don’t reach out for help in a timely way. Despite many public awareness campaigns, only 25 per cent of people are comfortable even talking about mental illness.

Read: Healthy Outcomes: Low-intensity cognitive behavioural therapy touted as alternative to address depression

“One of the reasons people don’t seek treatment is stigma. It still exists and it exists in spades,” said Plotkin. “And the most difficult barrier to overcome is how stigma results in self-blame — and that’s quite prevalent.”

According to Plotkin, organizations need to view overall health and mental health through the same lens. “The workplace can impact the stigma surrounding mental illness,” she said. “It’s not about what we do for them. It’s recognizing that it’s one in three of us. We’ve got to remove that us-and-them focus.”

Compounding the crisis is that, unlike other chronic conditions, mental illness affects every age group. It can start during someone’s first job and continue throughout a person’s career.

At the same time, Plotkin noted there’s an increased legal duty for employers to maintain both a physically and a psychologically safe workplace.

“Workers compensation claims can now be based on mental distress or other psychological pains and that’s increasing claims,” she said. “There are also increasing examples of liability against the employer for not maintaining a psychologically safe workplace. These can be in the form of civil actions or a human rights complaint in the form of discrimination.”

Read: What to consider when interviewing candidates with a mental illness

Plotkin suggested employers can focus on a number of areas, including:

  • Transformational leadership;
  • Manageable work schedules;
  • Manageable workloads and pace;
  • Role clarity;
  • Autonomy;
  • A just workplace;
  • Reduced status distinctions; and
  • Social environment.

“Too many organizations focus only on employee-level interventions and not on workplace practices and leadership,” she said. “Simply put, you change the culture, you change health outcomes.”

Read more coverage from the 2017 Healthy Outcomes conference

Copyright © 2018 Transcontinental Media G.P. Originally published on benefitscanada.com

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