Changing Landscape of Mental Health in Canada

By Attridge, Mark; Davidson, Dylan et al. | The Journal of Employee Assistance, October 2017 | Go to article overview

Changing Landscape of Mental Health in Canada


Attridge, Mark, Davidson, Dylan, Samra, Joti, The Journal of Employee Assistance


Changes over the past decade have produced many promising trends in workplace mental health, although certain problems remain. That is the consensus of a recent research project that examined the evolution of workplace mental health policies and strategies in Canada. The study focused on the five areas of legal advances, shifts in business priorities, changes in education and training, media trends, and research priorities.

Multi-method Approach to Research

Three research methods were utilized for the project. First, we reviewed empirical and business literature to investigate the state of workplace mental health in 2007 and find out what has changed. Second, we interviewed 87 key informants from across Canada, who collectively represented a wide breadth and depth of knowledge and expertise across aspects of workplace mental health.

Finally, we surveyed 2,148 Canadians working in human resources, management, government, mental health services, EAP, and other roles. More specifically, we wanted to assess these individuals' attitudes, opinions, and knowledge of current mental health practices in the workplace. This article presents highlights from the full 80-page report (Samra, 2017).

Then and Now

Only 10 years ago, efforts to promote workplace mental health in Canada were generally unsystematic, fragmented, and in some cases, frivolous. Mental health in the workplace was often considered peripheral and certainly secondary to physical-related illnesses and injuries. Respondents to our survey characterized the 2007 state of workplace mental health as being a stigma-laden area.

The business case for addressing workplace mental health issues was also in its early stages, and research was only just beginning to reliably measure employee health and connect it to work performance. However, workplaces were characterized as less stressful and with fewer demands on time and more resources provided than what is typical in today's work environments.

A decade later, much has changed. Work-related stress and mental health problems such as depression are acknowledged as global issues affecting a wide range of professions and workers. The workplace is seen as a major source of psychosocial risks and thus is recognized as the ideal venue for protecting the health and well-being of workers.

Accordingly, there has been a remarkable increase in new policies, initiatives, approaches, and strategies targeted at improving mental health in the workplace. Some of the most meaningful changes have occurred at the personal level in the form of increased awareness, understanding, and compassion for workers with mental health and/or addiction issues.

The Evolving Legal & Standards Landscape

In 2007, the political landscape changed dramatically with the formation of the first-ever Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), which included an advisory committee on mental health in the workplace.

Six years later, the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace was released. This document, known as "the Standard", provides a comprehensive framework employers can use to assess, respond, and evaluate workplace psychological health and safety.

Considered a first of its kind in the world, the Standard is championed by the MHCC, and developed through a consensus approach by the two leading standards-making organization in Canada--the Bureau de normalisation du Quebec (BNQ) and the CSA Group.

Another advance came in 2015 when the Public Service Alliance of Canada and Canadian government established a joint task force to address mental health in the workplace.

It should come as no surprise then, that in our survey, 72% of respondents reported that legislation to protect employees with mental health issues in the workplace is better today than in 2007. Examples of this change include laws in several Canadian provinces that provide specific protections for accommodating workers with a mental health disability; the bolstering of compensation for mental health injury under workers' compensation laws, particularly for those in high risk positions (e. …

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