Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Bridging the Gap: Workplace Mental Health Research in Canada

Academic journal article Canadian Psychology

Bridging the Gap: Workplace Mental Health Research in Canada

Article excerpt

Over the past few decades, poor employee mental health has become one of Canada's most prevalent and costly occupational health issues. The recently released Canadian National Standard on Psychological Health and Safety is helping to broaden the corporate perspective of mental health and provide organisations with more systematic workplace mental health guidelines. We suggest that it is theoretically and practically important for researchers to continue to pursue the following four areas of occupational mental health research: 1) the development of theory; 2) the standardization of strategy development and evaluation; 3) the improvement of longitudinal research; 4) and the application of workplace mental health strategies in natural workplace settings.

Keywords: employee mental health, occupational health, workplace strategies

As the largest contributor to the disease burden in middle-and high-income countries (World Health Organization [WHO], 2004), mental health problems are significantly impacting billions of people throughout the world (Collins et al., 2011). In Canada alone, approximately 6.7 million people-nearly one fifth of the country's population-are currently living with a mental health problem (Smetanin et al., 2011). Unfortunately, as mental health problems continue to become more prevalent, so do their associated costs. In 2011, it was estimated that the Canadian economy loses approximately $50 billion every single year as a result of mental health problems, and that over the next 30 years, the total jcost to the Canadian economy will likely amount to well over $2.5 ' trillion (Smetanin et al., 2011).

Because of these substantial financial losses, government and corporate interest in the mental health of Canadians is rising (Mental Health Commission of Canada [MHCC], 2012). Given that Canadian organisations collectively lose upward of $6 billion annually as a result of productivity declines associated with poor employee mental health (Smetanin et al., 2011), more and more organisational leaders are attempting to invest in the mental health of their employees (MHCC, 2012). With the cumulative 30-year productivity impact expected to be nearly $198 billion (Smetanin et al., 2011), the burden of poor employee mental health is likely to impede the overall growth of the Canadian economy-a consequence that has the potential to affect all Canadians. Because of these significant costs for Canadian organisations and members of the general public, systematic workplace research is still needed to better understand how organisations can prevent, manage, and help treat common employee mental health problems, such as excessive stress, burnout, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse problems.

Efforts to improve knowledge about mental health and mental health problems have been relatively infrequent, especially compared with efforts designed to improve knowledge about physical health problems (Jorm, 2000). As a result, many employers and employees tend to have a relatively limited understanding of mental health (Jorm, 2000; WHO, 2000). Unsurprisingly, mental health literacy-one's knowledge, beliefs, and understanding about mental health problems and treatments-is remarkably low throughout the world, especially when compared with the worldwide level of physical health literacy (Jorm, 2000). In fact, mental health literacy is so low that many people with mental health problems suffer from substantial human rights violations, such as discrimination and social stigma (WHO, 2003), which often go unnoticed and unaddressed. As contended by the World Health Organization (2000), although employers have no problem recognising and accommodating an employee with a physical health problem, such as a broken arm or cancer, many employers are either hesitant or unaware of the appropriate responses and accommodations for an employee with a mental health problem.

The Impact of Poor Employee Mental Health on the Workplace

Many Canadian companies experience some of the negative organisational and employee-level consequences associated with poor employee mental health (Dunnagan, Peterson, & Haynes, 2001) . …

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