By Deborah Gillis, President & CEO, CAMH Foundation
Early in my career I was appointed to my first management position and learned that one of my new team members had a complex mental illness. One afternoon my phone rang. The employee was having suicidal thoughts and was calling for help. I felt completely ill-equipped to respond. While I had been introduced to the employee’s psychiatrist who had explained the nature of the illness, I didn’t have the training or tools to know what to do. I remember calling the employee’s doctor and family and alerting HR. As a new manager, I was scared and felt a huge sense of responsibility for the employee’s safety.
A few years later, I found myself sitting on the floor of my office in tears, completely overwhelmed by a small problem that had emerged after weeks of late nights, tight deadlines and pressure to perform. I hadn’t told anyone in my workplace what I was feeling or that I was seeking professional counselling to help manage my stress and anxiety. I worried that talking about it would cause senior leaders to lose confidence in me and limit my opportunities.
While a lot has changed since I began my career, the fact remains that the culture of silence continues to exist in many workplaces. In fact, one recent study found that three-quarters of working Canadians say they would be reluctant to admit or would not admit to a boss or co-worker that they were experiencing a mental illness. Yet we also know that half a million Canadians will miss work each week due to mental illness and that mental illness accounts for 30 per cent of disability claims in Canada and 70 per cent of disability costs.
The impact in human terms is matched only by the economic burden—estimated to be $51 billion each year. By 2041, the cumulative cost of poor mental health to the Canadian economy will be $2.5 trillion. It’s time to act.
CAMH has launched a first-of-its-kind, user-friendly Workplace Mental Health Playbook for Business Leaders. Fueled by our lead supporter BMO, as well as support by CAA Insurance and DIALOG, this Playbook provides a path to more effective solutions and better outcomes for employees and for businesses, with five powerful recommendations and examples of best practices in the workplace. The recommendations are based on the best available evidence from CAMH researchers, clinicians and experts, and were also shaped by business leaders.
Prioritizing and addressing mental health in the workplace is the right thing to do for employees—and for the bottom line. Done effectively, the potential positive impacts on business include higher performance, lower absenteeism and reduced disability costs.
This kind of change requires true champions and strong leadership from the top. We are urging business leaders to be bold in their commitment and vulnerable in their communication. Be normalizers-in-chief. Opening the door to these conversations can save lives.
President & CEO, CAMH Foundation