On Wednesday, more than 150 attendees gathered at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto for Benefits Canada’s 2014 Mental Health Summit. This year’s theme was The Many Faces of Mental Health, exploring different perspectives—including the employer, the manager and the employee—on mental health issues.

Though the costs of mental health are well known in terms of absenteeism, disability and healthcare services, Benefits Canada editor Alyssa Hodder opened the half-day event with the important reminder that mental health in the workplace is “not just a cost issue; it’s a human issue.”

Speakers from Mental Health International, Cira Medical Services, Homewood Health, Standard Life, Sun Life Financial and Morneau Shepell, along with leading academics and healthcare practitioners, shared findings from research studies in the field of mental health as well as best practices in the workplace. Topics ranged from the value of partnerships between business and science to the role of employers, employees and family assistance programs (EFAPs) in preventing and dealing with these issues at work.

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Building a mentally healthy workforce
With 20% of Canadians experiencing a mental health problem in their lifetime, it’s no wonder mental health issues represent the highest portion of both short- and long-term disability expenditures or that they’re a leading cause of absenteeism.

Employers need to focus on early intervention and successful return-to-work experiences, presenters explained. Two keys to addressing these concerns are recognizing the importance of resiliency and reducing the stigma around mental health.

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A major consequence of stigma is that two-thirds of those who experience mental health concerns suffer in silence, said Jacques Sauvageau, a vice-president with Homewood Health. This silence contributes to presenteeism: employees who go to work but are unable to do their job fully, reducing overall productivity. Eric Pfeiffer, a senior health and wellness consultant with Standard Life, explained that more days are lost due to mental health through presenteeism than through absenteeism.

Resiliency—the ability to adapt to change, manage stress and recover from trauma—is important, said Cira Medical Services president Karen Seward. The first step to building a resilient workforce is to raise awareness of resiliency and make it as important as experience, competency and personality factors when recruiting and managing employees, she explained.

The employer’s role
Employers can have a significant impact on the mental health of an organization. In fact, the recent SALVEO Study in Quebec shows that workplaces with certain management practices (ranging from flexible work hours to fitness club memberships) have below-average mental health claim rates. And the results of a recent Morneau Shepell study show that use of EFAP services by those in distress leads to an increase in productivity. Both studies confirm the return on investment for a proactive approach.

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Dr. Marie-Hélene Pelletier, director of workplace mental health for Sun Life Financial discussed the employer’s role in the return-to-work process. It’s important to remember that it’s not possible to get patients back to 100% in a clinical setting; it takes time to transition back into everyday life, she explained. Employers should prepare for cognitive deficiencies in those returning to work, such as fatigue and lack of concentration.

Science and the future
According to the Brain Health for a Brain Economy report, as presented by Joseph Ricciuti, president and CEO of Mental Health International, exciting advances in neuroscience are “closing in on the causes of mental disorder.” Ricciuti also highlighted the potential of personalized medicine. Research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) suggests that, using genetic data, doctors can make better drug treatment decisions. The CAMH trials have been 90% effective, compared with 40% for the traditional trial-and-error approach, he said.

But the industry need not wait for science to improve employee mental health and reduce costs. The key is to take an integrated health and wellness approach that includes health habits, work environment, work-life balance and management practices.

Look for full coverage of the summit in the January 2015 issue of Benefits Canada.

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

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