Latimer: Impact on economy can be measured

Direct health care costs as well as loss of workplace productivity from mental illness cost our economy billions of dollars every year.

I have written in the past about the enormous impact mental illness has on our economy every year.

Roughly one quarter of Canadians will experience a mental illness at some point and the direct healthcare costs as well as loss of workplace productivity cost our economy billions of dollars every year.

Not only do mental health problems hinder the productivity of businesses, but they also affect the ability to recruit and retain talented workers, remain competitive and protect customer service.

Unfortunately, stigma is also an ongoing problem. Between 40 and 75 percent of individuals with a mental illness will not seek help because of shame, stigma or lack of information.

It is unacceptable that so many people still feel as though they will be permanently labeled or even lose their jobs if they openly seek help for mental illness.

When individuals are afraid to seek the help they need, they may continue coming to work but be less productive and require more effort to function even at minimal levels. This is bad for the affected individual as well as the company. It is estimated that mental health  losses are two to three times greater than the losses due to absenteeism at work.

Close to half of all long term disability claims are psychiatric in nature – yet many employers are not well-equipped to deal with mental health issues in the workplace.

Providing a mentally healthy workplace will not only improve overall morale and reduce unacceptable stigma surrounding mental health issues, it could also easily save many companies money.

The local chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association is putting on a series of workshops geared toward helping employers learn to manage mental health issues in the workplace as well as create a healthy environment for their employees.

“Complex Issues, Clear Solutions” is an award-winning one-day workshop designed to provide strategies and practical tools for employers. It promises to develop skills and comfort level to effectively manage employees experiencing emotional distress. Some of the topics covered during the course include noticing changes in employee behaviour, communicating with employees, dealing with performance and co-worker responses and developing accommodations.

“Safe and Sound” is another one-day workshop aimed at helping employers build and sustain a psychologically healthy workplace. Participants will receive training on the workers’ compensataion act relating to mental disorders.

They will also learn about their duties and obligations in WorkSafe BC, how to recognize and address psychological health and safety risks in the workplace, and develop strategies to support a psychologically healthy workplace.

These courses are being held at the UBC Okanagan campus Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. For more information or to register, visit www.cmha.bc.ca/workshops

I encourage all employers to take steps to improve their ability to deal with mental health issues in the workplace. These issues are a reality and being proactive in this area will help your employees as well as the company as a whole.

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