Employees are an organization’s greatest asset and the number one driver of success. To have a fully functioning and productive workforce, businesses need to pay closer attention to their employees’ health and well-being, including their mental health.

Though about one in five employees in the Canadian workforce deals with mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder, many are reluctant to share this information with their employers for fear of being stigmatized. As a result, these individuals don’t seek the help and support they need to feel better.

Employers and managers can help ease that fear by increasing their own awareness of mental illness and creating a safe space for employees with mental health issues to open up about stress, anxiety, or sadness. “It’s important that managers actively listen with empathy, react positively, and give comfort, encouragement, and support,” says Ann Marie Mac Donald, the Executive Director and CEO of the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario (MDAO). The simple act of talking about something very painful can be a catalyst for change. “There’s a relief that happens when they go and get the help they need because they feel they’re not alone,” says Mac Donald.

Workplace support leads to resilience

There are many resources for employees with mental illness. MDAO offers confidential support and recovery programs which include peer support programs that connect people with others in the organization that have had similar experiences. “Employees truly know the culture within a given organization and we’ve found that peer support diminishes the stigma because you have people who you trust and work with that understand the stressors within the workplace,” says Mac Donald.
Helping affected employees navigate their mental illness journey not only supports a more positive view of the company culture, it also pays off in reduced absenteeism and increased productivity. “People with mental illness can live very productive lives — it’s so important that people understand that,” she says.
We can all work together to erase the stigma surrounding mental illness by treating those affected as we would treat somebody suffering with any other illness or injury. The change begins with us.