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Mental Health in the Workplace

A shocking one in five Canadians experiences a mental health problem or mental illness each year1 and 30% of disability claims are related to mental health issues.2 Clearly,mental health in the workplace has a huge economic and social impact on the work force. Taking mental health seriously and providing resources for coping go a long way in promoting a healthy work environment.

Building a mentally healthy workspace requires participation from both employers and employees. The management level of a company definitely sets the tone and there are practical steps they can take to make employees feel safe and appreciated.

Top Five Mental Health Practices for Employers

  1. Support employee participation. When employees feel included in processes and decision-making, it increases engagement, job satisfaction and overall sense of well being. Employees want to know that their ideas and contributions have value.
  2. Clearly define roles and responsibilities. Feeling anxious or uncertain about tasks or assignments leads to confusion and increased stress levels. Communicating what is expected in a concise manner promotes improved productivity. Reducing stress in the workplace wherever possible supports mental health and lowers health care costs.
  3. Promote a good work/life balance. Allowing employees to enjoy their time away from work without interruptions lowers the risk of mental burnout and injury in the workplace. Employees who are well rested and rejuvenated will contribute more at work and feel more engaged. 
  4. Provide opportunities for learning and training. Encouraging personnel to advance professionally shows them that the company truly wants to invest in them. Companies that offer supplementary education generally report lower absenteeism, fewer reported grievances and higher job satisfaction.
  5. Recognize employee contributions. It is advantageous for companies to provide recognition and accolades where appropriate as often as possible. People who feel appreciated at work report feeling happier and have lower stress levels. It also increases employee retention, which provides an economic benefit to the company.

Protecting your Mental Health at Work

It’s important for companies to implement processes and procedures that provide support for employees but we are our own best advocates for good mental health. Figure out what helps you feel healthy and happy at work and take steps to prevent stress and mental fatigue from building up. Here are a few tips that are a good starting point.

  • Get plenty of rest – a good night’s sleep goes a long way towards improving productivity and managing stress. Sleeping 7-9 hours a night will have positive effects, both physically and mentally.
  • Remember to take a break – a quick walk outside or 10 minutes of stretching will revitalize you and provide an opportunity for your mind to reset
  • Practice mindfulness – yoga and meditation help to relieve pent up stress or anxiety, leaving your mind clear to focus on your work
  • Build good relationships – invest time in creating positive relationships with supervisors and colleagues. This will lead to better conflict resolution should disagreements arise. Keep in mind that negative feedback doesn’t reflect on you as a person, but provides an opportunity for vocational improvement. 
  • Eat healthy snacks – while we all love to indulge in a treat from time to time, eating snacks high in sugar can lead to an afternoon crash. Instead, keep healthy options like nuts, seeds and veggies to your mind fueled up.

Experiencing a Mental Health Crisis at Work

Despite our best efforts, sometimes it all becomes too much and our mental health pays the price. There is no shame in admitting that you don’t have it all together. It’s okay to ask for help and struggling in silence will probably only make the situation worse. These are some things to keep in mind as you work through difficult times.

  • Treat yourself kindly – if you were experiencing a physical ailment or injury, there would be no stigma associated with taking time to heal. Treat your mental health in the same way. Listen to yourself and take the time you need to get well. Find ways to compensate until you’re back to full strength.
  • Practice self-care – remember to eat well and keep to a sleep regular schedule. Get a massage or take the time to do things you enjoy after work.
  • Talk to someone – having a support network of friends, family and a mental health professional can reduce feelings of isolation.
  • Make a plan – while you are under no obligation to disclose any mental health concerns to your employers, if you feel comfortable doing so, letting your supervisor know that you are having struggles may allow them to implement a more flexible schedule or workload.

Don’t be afraid to speak up and advocate for better mental health practices in your workplace. Mental health procedures should be just as important as physical safety precautions. Everyone benefits when employees feel protected, fulfilled and content at work.


  1. Smetanin, P., Stiff, D., Briante, C., Adair, C., Ahmad, S. & Khan, M. (2011). The life and economic impact of major mental illnesses in Canada: 2011 to 2014. RiskAnalytica, on behalf of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
  2. Sairanen, S., Matzanka, D., & Smeall, D. (2011). The business case: Collaborating to help employees maintain their mental well-being. Healthcare Papers, 11, 78-84.

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