How mental health aware are you? Here’s how to help your co-worker (or yourself) deal with mental illness

In any given week, at least 500,000 employed Canadians are unable to work due to mental health problems. In fact, according to Statistics Canada, the average public sector worker missed 13.5 days of work last year (the most ever), while private sector workers missed 8.3 days.

While statistics like this are fairly easy to find, what often goes unreported is that one reason for sick days is due to a deterioration in mental health.

Mental illnesses cost Canadian employers billions of dollars in absenteeism or sick days, “presenteeism” (coming to work, even when the employee can’t work well), disability and other benefits, and lost productivity, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).

While many organizations these days are taking steps to create mentally healthy workplaces for all employees, the feelings that can arise from mental-health problems can mean facing a “normal work day” can be overwhelming.

One way to overcome the challenges is to tell a supervisor or member of your workplace’s human resources team. This is called disclosure, and while in Canada, the law says that you don’t have to tell your employers what is causing a disability, you do need to say that you’re experiencing health challenges and you have to describe what you need to work well.

If you suspect a co-worker is suffering from mental illness, here are some tips from CMHA to offer support:

  • Ask how you can help, and respect your co-worker’s wishes.
  • Continue to include your co-worker in the workplace’s usual activities.
  • Depending on your relationship, you can still keep in touch with a co-worker who takes time off.
  • When a co-worker returns to work after time off due to a mental illness, make them feel welcome and appreciated. Saying nothing because you’re worried about saying the wrong thing can make your co-worker feel worse.

For more information visit Mental Health Works.