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Workplace mental health tool

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WMC by Richard Lipman
Richard Lipman is president of the Wood Manufacturing Council. For more info email rlipman@wmc-cfb.ca
It seems to me that each year, awareness around mental health issues grows, aided in part by high-profile celebrities who are prepared to stand up and share their stories and challenges with mental illness through the highly publicized Bell “Let’s Talk” day.
In seeing the ads and the related coverage for their most recent event, I found out about a resource for employers that might be valuable and of interest. I recall vividly one of our woodworking teachers’ events from a number of years ago, where we had several post-secondary institutions outline their woodworking programs to Ontario high school teachers.
At one point, the conversation moved towards literacy challenges and learning issues and then turned into a discussion about student mental health. I had not expected that topic to come up that day, but the fact that it did made the issue more real for me, and the concerns of the instructors at both the high school and post-secondary levels was very evident.
Bell “Let’s Talk”, started in 2010, to initiate a “new conversation about Canada’s mental health.” At the time, their website noted that people were not talking about mental illness even though the numbers of Canadians dealing with mental illness spoke volumes about the urgent need for action.  
Clara Hughes, a Canadian Olympian and national spokesperson for Bell’s “Let’s Talk” campaign, shared her struggles with depression and kicked off a national dialogue about mental illness that offered new ideas and hope for those who struggle, with numbers growing every year. As a result, institutions and organizations large and small from all over Canada received new funding for access, care and research from Bell, governments and corporations that have joined the effort. Bell’s total donation to mental health programs is beyond impressive.  
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada’s largest mental health teaching hospital and one of the world’s leading research centers in its field. They have produced the “Workplace Mental Health Playbook for Business Leaders – Research-Informed Recommendations from Canada’s Foremost Mental Health Hospital and Global Leader in Mental Health Research.” Preparing for and addressing mental health is good for employees and businesses’ bottom line. Research has proven, according to CAMH, that mentally healthy workplaces have both employee retention and attraction benefits and that good workplace mental health programs have potential 
benefits for business that include reduced cost for disability, higher performance and 
lower absenteeism.
CAMH worked with leaders in business to develop this “first of its kind, user-friendly playbook.” They arrived at five key recommendations that are based on the best available evidence and were shaped by feedback from businesses, as well as their own researchers and experts. This is a helpful tool that can be used with other existing resources to help industry address the challenges of mental illness in the workplace.  
The goal of the course is to support employees and the business as a whole, with effective solutions. CAMH’s research shows that by the age of 40, half of Canadians have or have had a mental illness. They report that 20% of employees in the U.S. have voluntarily left roles in the past for mental health reasons. Of particular note is that number increased to 50% for millennials and 75% for Gen Z. Some 30% of disability claims in Canada are due to mental illness and 70% of all disability costs are due to mental illness. CAMH estimates that mental illness costs Canada $51 billion per year. They note that a very significant proportion of the Canadian workforce is carrying the invisible weight of stigma, stress and illness. In any given year, one in five Canadians experiences mental illness, including addiction. For groups facing marginalization in daily life, such as visible minorities, the workplace can be a major contributor to poor mental health.  
The CAMH playbook could indeed be of interest and quite valuable as an initial learning tool, or to further your knowledge and options for addressing mental health in the workplace.
There are five key recommendations for Canadian employers. The first is to create a long-term, organization-wide mental health strategy that should work hand-in-hand with your overall business strategy. They note that organizations with comprehensive mental health strategies perform better on average in all areas, from health and safety to shareholder return.  Secondly, employers should institute mandatory mental health training for leadership. They note effective leaders must be trained, invested in and sensitive to mental health in the workplace. 
Next, develop mental health supports, as there are no “one-size fits-all” solutions. Effective programs are evidence based, targeted and inclusive.  The fourth recommendation is to prioritize and optimize a return-to-work process checklist. Return to work should not mark the end of support for an employee; rather it’s a critical stage in the support process.  
Lastly, they recommend that companies track their performance.  Performance measurement is very important to a sound workplace mental health strategy.  
There are many good resources and tools for those interested, relevant and useful to companies large and small. The playbook contains a number of case studies, lots of additional research summaries and some thoughts on looking ahead. They also have fact sheets, mental health information, free workplace resources etc.

Visit www.camh.ca to access these valuable materials.

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