Mental health is a growing concern for employers and nearly 80% of them say that mental health issues have increased in importance compared with three to five years ago, according to a survey.

The survey, conducted by Mercer in conjunction with The Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH), finds that respondents—about 85% of whom are human resources representatives—say only 13% of senior executives have a strong awareness of the impact of mental health on the organization.

“The high ranking that mental health has on the HR priorities list combined with the lack of awareness at the top of the organization is cause for concern,” says Anne Nicoll, a principal at Mercer. “Executive knowledge and commitment to action are critical in addressing this issue.”

Forty-seven percent of respondents with no or only some senior executive awareness have no plans or don’t know how to improve the awareness of the executive team.

“One of the impediments to senior buy-in is the lack of measurement of the impact of mental health issues needed to make a business case for action,” adds Nicoll. “Only 22% of respondents reported that they measure the impact of mental health issues. Of those that do, the top two measures reported were disability claim statistics and EAP usage, which means that employees who do not access these programs are not being captured at all.”

Two-thirds of the survey respondents also appear to be underestimating the prevalence of mental illness in the workplace. It’s estimated that 35 million workdays are lost every year in Canada due to mental illness.

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Also, a recent study by the Public Health Agency of Canada estimated that 13% of the adult population in Canada have either been diagnosed with a mental illness or are undiagnosed. However, 46% of respondents reported that they have 5% or fewer employees who experience mental illness in a year and another 22% estimated the prevalence to be between 5% and 10%.

There were 452 human resource professionals and business leaders that took part in the Mercer/CAMIMH survey. Participants represented a wide range of industry sectors and sizes from organizations with fewer than 100 employees to those with more than 5,000 employees in Canada.

Click here for our Health & Wellness Guide, for articles on mental health and workplace health.

There is also more about employee wellness in past issues of Working Well. Click here to go to the archives.

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