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Mental health issues should be out in the open

While many of us move beyond the post-holiday letdown and the winter blues, depression and other mental health problems are real issues for many of us. Thus the needs for the Let’s Talk campaign and other programs such as the one discussed this week by columnist Owen Roberts.

New research released this week shows depression is now tied with high blood pressure as the number-one reason Canadians see a doctor.

Depression was the top-ranked condition by 24 per cent of physician respondents, equal to high blood pressure, which was the top-ranked condition by a different 24 per cent of physician respondents, according to a national survey that polled physicians, employees and employers across Canada.

By comparison, musculoskeletal disorders were the top-ranked condition by 11 per cent of physicians who responded to the survey. Furthermore, 63 per cent of physicians reported that depression, anxiety disorders or stress-related issues had the fastest increase in cases they had seen over the last two to three years.

A large majority (82 per cent) of employees who reported struggling with mental health issues and two thirds (67 per cent) of employees who reported struggling with stress symptoms said it impacts their work. Comparatively, only half (53 per cent) of employees who reported struggling with physical health issues said it impacts their work.

That’s bad news primarily for those suffering with mental illness, but also, collectively, for productivity. Moreover, many people dealing with such issues never seek help. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, for instance, reports that more than half of workers who reported symptoms of depression did not perceive a need for treatment.

In a recent study, CAMH investigated barriers to mental health care experienced by workers and the resulting impact on productivity. As many as 40 per cent of participants were experiencing significant depressive symptoms and, of that group, 52.8 per cent did not recognize a  need to seek help.

Given the amount of time we spend at work, the environment is a key factor. The survey published this week shows 67 per cent of highly engaged employees reported excellent or very good mental health, compared to 35 per cent who are not engaged. Additionally, workplace stress has been found to have a higher impact on engagement than personal stress.

Delving deeper into the issue reveals employees report sources of workplace stress are due primarily to emotional or interpersonal issues (e.g., office culture, communication, conflict), as indicated by 60 per cent of employees. Comparatively, nearly half (43 per cent) of employees reported that job-related issues (e.g., deadlines) are the source of workplace stress and only 14 per cent of employees reported that physical work-related (e.g., lifting heavy objects) issues are the source of workplace stress.

Though conversations around mental health are continuing to evolve and become more commonplace, employees are not completely comfortable acknowledging the problems at work. Two thirds of employees who took time off work for a mental health issue did not report it.

Given both the prevalence of mental health problems and the impact, personally and collectively, removing the stigma is a huge first step on the more difficult role of dealing with the issues.

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