What Every CEO Should Know about Workplace Mental Illness

Surprising Stats Reveal Prevalence of Mental Illness in the Workplace.

Posted Dec 29, 2017

Nik Shuliahin/Unsplash
Source: Nik Shuliahin/Unsplash

Don’t be fooled. Even if your bottom line is healthy that doesn’t mean your employees are. Mental illness is invisible. As a CEO you’re responsible for creating a workplace that supports the growth of your business as well as the health of your employees.

1. It IS in your workplace

1 in 5 Canadians of working age will experience a mental illness in a given year. The other 4 are indirectly affected by the illness. Yet, only 1/3 of people who experience a mental health problem will seek and receive services and treatment.[1]

2. It is affecting your bottom line

The cost to the Canadian economy is in excess of $50 billion.[2]

Mental health problems and illnesses account for approximately 30 per cent of short- and long-term disability claims and are the fastest growing category of disability costs in Canada.[3] They also account for more than $6 billion in lost productivity costs due to absenteeism and preseenteeism.[4]

3. You can do something about it.

People do and can recover from mental illnesses with timely and appropriate treatment. People, like myself, return to living rich full lives and have satisfying and productive careers.

You are part of the solution.

a) Model open mindedness and a non-judgemental attitude.

b) Speak openly about your own mental health; be candid about your own experience with mental illness if you have such experience. Top down solutions are powerful.

c) Create an accepting workplace by encouraging everyone to talk about mental health issues as easily as one would speak about physical disorders.

d) Proactively supports employees’ mental health by implementing some of the evidence based guidelines of a psychologically healthy and safe workplace.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada has endorsed these standards as a way of working towards and positively affecting the mental health of your most valued investment: your workers.

Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace materials can be found here.

e) The O.A.R.S. (Observe, Ask + Actively Listen, Refer, Support) is a free e-guide resource I created to address mental illness in the workplace. I created O.A.R.S. as a framework of what to do when a colleague or employee may be dealing with a mental health issue. Read it and see if helps you feel more confident addressing mental health issues in your workplace.

As a CEO you juggle innumerable and pivotal responsibilities. In your role you have the power to set the tone for the work environment. Use your influence for good and create a legacy of not only a healthy bottom line, but a healthy workforce.

For an in-depth look at the O.A.R,S. framework and other strategies, check these other two Psychology Today posts:

"4 Strategies to Make it Easier to Talk About Mental Health"

"How to Talk to a Co-Worker About Their Mental Health"

© Victoria Maxwell


1 Statistics Canada. (2003). Canadian community health survey: Mental health and well-being.  The Daily, 3 September.  Retrieved from http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/030903/dq030903a-eng.htm

2 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 2041. RiskAnalytica, on behalf of the Mental Health Commission of Canada

3 Sairanen, S., Matzanke, D., & Smeall, D. (2011). The business case: Collaborating to help employees maintain their mental well-being.  Healthcare Papers, 11, 78–84.

4 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 2041. RiskAnalytica, on behalf of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.