"Psychological injury" claims on the rise

Workplace mental health claims increasing even before pandemic, says report

"Psychological injury" claims on the rise

Mental health has been a growing problem even before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent report from CBC.

“Mental disorder claims” submitted to WorkSafeBC rose by 24 per cent from 2018 to 2019, held steady in 2020 before rising again to about 20 per cent so far this year.

Also, "mental disorder or syndromes" claims submitted to Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board have gone up from 512 in 2010 to 1,813 last year.

The Northwest Territories and Nunavut have also seen a rise in psychological injuries at work, according to the report. The Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission that deals with both territories saw the number of claims rise from fewer than 10 in 2015 and 2016 to 28 in 2019 and 19 in 2020.

“In the Yukon, the amount of submitted "psychological injury" claims nearly doubled from 2016 to 2018,” according to the report. “In Alberta's workers' compensation board, numbers show a rise in psychological injury claims in government, education, and health workers over the past four years.”

Pandemic increase

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated what was already clearly an issue.

28 per cent of Canadians admit their mental health has deteriorated amid the health crisis, and 69 per cent say Canada is currently experiencing a mental health pandemic, according to a report from the Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences (Ontario Shores), a specialty mental health hospital.

"To know Canadians are suffering from a mental health standpoint is heartbreaking, but, unfortunately, not surprising," said Karim Mamdani, president and CEO of Ontario Shores.

"This should serve as a warning for policy and decision-makers that the demands for mental health services will continue to increase at an alarming rate as we continue living through the COVID-19 pandemic and long after it is over."

Millennials and Gen Xers (75 per cent) are more likely to believe that Canada is facing a mental health pandemic compared with Gen Zers & Boomers (61 per cent), found the survey of 1,001 Canadian adults.

Nearly three in 10 (28.8 per cent) report moderate to severe anxiety about returning to pre-pandemic routines, according to another study from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

Also, 76 per cent of members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) reported experiencing high levels of job stress during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, and 72.9 per cent of Ontario physicians experienced some level of burnout in 2021, up from 66 per cent in 2020.

Addressing the problem

Employers have a huge role to play in supporting employees' mental health, according to the International Labour Organizations (ILO).

“In workplaces where adequate psychological support is provided, workers experiencing work-related stress and other mental health problems are more likely to seek, and receive, appropriate help. This will help them to have a quicker recovery and more sustainable return to work,” it said.

However, while 62 per cent of Canadian workers say emotional, mental and physical fatigue is the top issue that is affecting them negatively, 37 per cent feel unsafe to talk about mental health at work, according to a report from Sun Life.

ILO also recommended that employers consider doing the following to support their staff:

  • Integrate psychological support initiatives into the workplace COVID-19 response plan.
  • Create a buddy system to monitor stress and burnout and to provide psychological support.
  • Pay attention to workers with pre-existing mental health conditions and psychosocial disabilities who may be less able to cope during this period and may need further support.
  • Make stress reduction and self-calming techniques available (such as, online relaxation and meditation classes, tutorials and apps). 
  • Inform both managers and workers about how they can access mental health and psychosocial support services and counselling programmes and facilitate access to such services, including employee assistance programmes (EAP).
  • Maintain confidentiality about the services provided to individual workers.