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Business's next challenge: tackling mental health in the workplace
By Virginia Galt
Tuesday, April 12, 2005 Page B1

Mental health problems, such as stress and depression, have reached such crisis proportions in the workplace that a coalition of senior business leaders will announce its backing tomorrow for comprehensive research aimed at creating healthier work environments.

With mental disability now accounting for an estimated 30 to 40 per cent of the disability claims being recorded by Canada's major insurers and employers, the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health is poised to announce two major research initiatives aimed at identifying management practices that lead to -- or exacerbate -- depression and mental illness among employees.

Employers have "beaten the safety problem" to a large extent, said former federal finance minister Michael Wilson, who has recently been appointed by the federal government in Ottawa to act as a special adviser on mental health.

But there is far less understanding -- or action -- on mental health issues, which can be aggravated by working conditions or a reluctance of employees to seek help, Mr. Wilson said.

Mr. Wilson, president and chief executive officer of Toronto-based UBS Global Asset Management (Canada) Co., lost his 29-year-old son, Cameron, to suicide in 1995.

Employers are becoming increasingly aware of the rising costs of disability claims from employees suffering from stress and depression, Mr. Wilson said.

Far less is known about the cost of lost productivity by employees who continue to work while suffering from these conditions.

A study to be led by the Harvard Medical School will survey more than 100,000 Canadian employees to document the cost benefits of early and effective treatment of depression in the labour force, particularly among men and women in their prime working years, Mr. Wilson said.

In a second major research initiative, to be announced tomorrow, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research will embark this summer on 10 years of applied research on mental health in the workplace.

Bill Wilkerson, chief executive officer of the business and economic roundtable, said yesterday his organization will help raise money for the research projects and will enlist employers to volunteer their workplaces "as laboratories for the research." One of the goals is to "eliminate the most egregious forms of chronic job stress at source," he said.

Uncertainty about job security, "management practices which isolate people from information [and] the relentless treadmill effect at work" all contribute to soaring stress loads, he said.

Rémi Quirion, who will co-ordinate the research at the CIHR, a national public research agency, said he hopes one outcome of the project will be to reduce the stigma still associated with mental illness. "Mental illness is more of an issue than back pain, for example. People are suffering from burnout, but it's not properly recognized because of stigma; employees are afraid to talk about it for fear of losing their job."

Yet, added Mr. Wilson, there can be "tragic consequences" when people are afraid to seek treatment or ask their employers and co-workers for help. He related in a recent interview that his son did not want his battle with depression widely known because he was afraid it would affect his employment prospects.

Dr. Quirion said employers are more willing than they were in the past to help employees suffering from stress and depression, "but there is still very little in the way of best practices."

The scope of the research will be announced this summer, said Dr. Quirion, who said he would like to see studies on people who thrive under pressure as well as on those who are struggling. He agreed with Mr. Wilkerson that young working adults are the most vulnerable to stress and depression.

"As a young person, you want to move ahead in your work. You work hard to show that you have the ability for it, that you are productive, that you are dynamic, that you have new ideas," Dr. Quirion said.

Business could be doing more to help, Mr. Wilson said.

"One of the dreams that I have is that we replicate with mental illness what has [successfully] been done with safety in the workplace," he said.


Great Article!!!!

I have been going through some very serious problems with my work situation and I am a counselor!! I work in the field of mental health, family counseling, substance abuse, sexual abuse and you know all the rest...

In the past two years, a new person was hired, to be the "Health Administrator". At first I was very happy because as the Program Manager, I had been responsible for the budget, proposals, a staff of 9 and the whole ten yards. I really thought that having a new administrator on board would let me do what I love to do and that is work with the clients / patients. Surprise surprise.... that is not what I got. I got an individual who took it upon herself to make my life as miserable as she could possibly make it. She has started rumors, (one I had investigated by the RCMP who strongly believed that it had originated from her) calling me down, taking time away from my work, demoting me, taking my responsibilities and putting them on someone much less qualified and refusing to respond to my written communications when I have discreetly asked for explanations.
I had a real scare a few weeks ago, My dr. told me I was very close to having a bleeding ulcer and suggested 6 weeks off on stress leave.

There is no one who can fill in for me so I am stuck or out of a job... Mental health issues at my place of employment??? I think so.

I take care of it by:
1. Writing a lot
2. Doing research. (I find that very interesting)
3. Walking on our beach
4. Renting funny movies
5. Getting more involved in my family and their lives.

I will continue because I have a romantic belief that the good guy always wins and I'd like to think that I was that good guy.

Geeze, this was a relief, just being able to write this. Thanks!!

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
I had a similar experience years ago. I complained to the director and was told that while he agreed with me he would support my supervisor because he felt he had to stand behind his managers.

I began looking for a new job and found one. About three months after I left, both my ex-supervisor and the director, along with a few of their cronies, were all fired, basically for incompetency. Last I heard, my ex-supervisor was still stuck in a rut in a small department under the thumb of a psychiatrist. The director I never heard of again.

So at least sometimes I also believe that the good guys are vindicated, though it may take a while...


I have been offered a job at a different organization. I don't want to take it yet, only because I am stubborn! but I will if this doesn't go away. Good to know that someone else has gone through a similar situation.

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
My feeling is that one spends so much time and energy in this profession that it's a waste of time to expend any of that on paranoid power hungry colleagues or managers.

I'd go to the new job...


I will take your advice into carefull consideration. I keep telling myself that I am not there to scratch the backs of admin. I am not there to balance the books. I am not there to make the organization look good. I am there for my clients, over 120 of them that I see at different times every day, week or month depending on where they are in their healing. The clients I work with are mostly first nation and I have known them since I was a child. I also understand the trauma they went through with residential school, re-location and many other events that created the problems they face every day of their lives. I almost feel guilty even thinking of leaving... well let me re-state that, I do feel guilty for considering leaving. But I do have my health and my career to protect and a family that will need me for a while yet so with that in mind, I will keep my options open.
WONDERFUL article! I would love to get involved. I'm going to do my own research, but if anyone hears of where I can look or who I can contact (other than those mentioned in the article) please let me know. Unfortunately, I don't live in Ottawa (I live in BC) but maybe I can help get some business involvement from the west coast?
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