When it comes to employment mental illness has a stigma that makes it difficult for sufferers to talk to their managers about the disease according to a a Conference Board study released today at the 2011 Workplace Mental Health Conference in Toronto.
Too often employees feel that misinformation, fear and prejudice remain far too prevalent in Canadian workplaces.
The study, Building Mentally Healthy Workplaces: Perspectives of Canadian Workers and Front-Line Managers, focused on education and communication, workplace culture, leadership, and managerial skills and capacity with more than 1,000 Canadians surveyed.
Forty-four percent of employees taking part in the survey reported that they were either currently or had in the past dealt with a mental health issue. The survey defined mental health in broad terms that included excessive stress, anxiety, depression, burnout, addictions and substance abuse, mania, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, among others. Respondents feared that making a disclosure about their mental health issues would make an impact in their chance for promotion (54 percent) and future success (38 percent) on the job making it difficult to confide in their manager, union rep or a co-worker.
Managers reported that they are informed about mental health issues but 44 percent have no training on how to manage their employees facing those issues. Managers want and need that training according to the report in order to bridge the gap in the workplace.
That gap is illustrated in the comparison of 82 per cent of senior executives surveyed stated that their company promotes a mentally healthy work environment, only 30 per cent of employees who work in such occupations as service, labour, and production agree.
"Mental health is a significant business issue that requires the attention of organizations. People who experience mental health issues face incredible challenges in the workplace. Many are misunderstood, shunned and underutilized," said Karla Thorpe, Associate Director, Compensation and Industrial Relations in a press release. "In a world where shortages of critical skills are top of mind for many organizations, employers cannot afford to allow this situation to continue."
The issue is a big one in Canada. Bill Wilkerson, Co-Founder/CEO Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health, said that six million Canadians suffer mental health problems at any hour on any clock in any time zone. When it comes to disability only heart disease outranks depression. In Canada disability represents from 4 to 12 percent of payroll costs.
Mental health can affect employees with other health conditions. Excessive stress has been linked to infectious disease and cardiovascular problems, higher incidence of back pain, repetitive strain injuries (RSIs), colorectal cancer for example.