Recession-stressed workers need employers’ support

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is calling on all employers, in both the public and private sectors, to broaden access to and funding for mental health programs in the workplace.

According to the first results of the Desjardins Financial Security National Health Survey released for National Mental Health Week (May 4-10), during which Canadians are encouraged to "Invest in yourself", a significant number of workers in Canada feel they have lost control of their lives as the economic recession grinds on, unemployment numbers rise and financial security appears to be evaporating.

The study found that one-third of those surveyed say they are more stressed now than a year ago. About 30 per cent of employees across Canada are experiencing anxiety, losing sleep, and/or suffering from headaches, muscle aches and other physical tension – symptoms which often precede more serious problems.

Among their worries, three of the most stressful aspects of their lives are associated with their employment – money, workload and job security. The vast majority (83 per cent) agree that they pay more attention to their personal finances and spending habits now than prior to the recession.

Employees appear to be working longer hours as 54 per cent feel the current recession is having an impact on their work/life balance. As well, 43 per cent are now concerned about losing their jobs.

Another sign that employees may be increasingly worried is their belief that the recession will last much longer than most economists are predicting. The survey found that 34 per cent believe the recession will last less than one year, while 47 per cent believe it will go on longer than a year.

“Clearly, many employees have lost confidence and this is showing up in all kinds of ways that could lead to more serious mental health problems down the road,” says Dr. Taylor Alexander, CEO of the CMHA’s National office.

In response to this deteriorating situation, the CMHA is encouraging all employers to broaden access to and funding for mental health programs in the workplace.

“We’re currently reaching tens of thousands of people across the country through our programs, which give employers and employees alike the tools to deal effectively with stress, anxiety and depression. But, we could do so much more,” said Dr. Alexander.

Michele Nowski, director, disability claims and disability management with Desjardins Financial Security, noted that a stressed-out workplace translates into increased presenteeism and absenteeism. This equates to increased short-term disability claims for both physical and mental health issues. Mental health claims are the fastest growing category for days lost to disability in Canada.  

“By investing in their workers, companies are investing in themselves. A mentally healthy workplace typically has fewer disability claims, lower absenteeism and better productivity,” says Nowski. "It really becomes a partnership between employees and employers because employees also have a responsibility to manage their health and stress levels."

This means giving their employees the tools to gain more control over their lives-such as engaging them in open communications, working in teams to find solutions, being supportive of those who are not coping well, offering flex hours and promoting a healthy work/life balance.

To tackle the rising incidence of workplace stress, employees need to take responsibility as well. For example, they should be talking with their employers when they see potential problems arising, maintaining their health, and focusing on their accomplishments and goals. Or they could be proactively exploring other career paths and networking to identify new job prospects.

To find more information about mental health, visit To view Desjardins Financial Security’s survey, visit