Workplace stress primary cause of mental health issues: Survey

More than half of survey respondents had considered suicide

Workplace stress primary cause of mental health issues: Survey

Canadian employees report workplace stress as the primary cause of their mental health problems or illness, with depression and anxiety noted as the top two issues, according to a recent survey.

"Mental health is not binary in that people either have issues or not; it lies along a continuum and can change depending on the challenges we face," said Bill Howatt, chief research and development officer, workforce productivity, Morneau Shepell. "It's critical that employers consider the mental health of the entire workforce and develop a strategy that addresses all levels of mental health programming, including preventative measures to keep employees healthy, early intervention to navigate through challenges, and supportive policies to aid in effective transition back into the workplace."

Morneau Shepell and the Mental Health Commission of Canada released a white paper called Understanding Mental Health, Mental Illness and Their Impacts in the Workplace that details the survey's findings. The survey reported on the workplace experience of an average professional Canadian employee with a mental health problem or mental illness.

Workplace stress is a major contributor to mental health issues, which can subsequently impact workplace productivity. In today's organizations, the survey found that Canadians reported high levels of concern regarding the impact of their mental health issues on their career and job performance. Close to 70 per cent of the 1,600 respondents stated that their work experience impacted their mental health, while a higher number (78 per cent) reported mental health as the primary reason for missing work.

Despite the prevalence of mental health issues, employees are confident in their ability to cope with stressful situations. The majority of survey respondents reported a neutral (59 per cent) or positive (26 per cent) outlook on mental health, which closely mirrors the reported coping strategies. More than half (54 per cent) of respondents indicated they have high/optimal coping skills.

Employees identify the use of positive coping mechanisms such as seeking professional support, and negative coping strategies such as drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco.

Without effective coping strategies, employees are at risk of further harm to themselves. Suicide remains a top concern, with more than half (58 per cent) of survey respondents reporting they had considered taking their lives to cope with mental illness.

Effective policies to curb mental health issues should be embedded across all stages of employment, from hiring to retirement or turnover.

"Implementing a successful, comprehensive mental health strategy takes time but is integral to the overall health of the organization," said Louise Bradley, president and CEO, the Mental Health Commission of Canada.