Mental health issues affect one in five Canadians. And by the age of 40, approximately 50% of the Canadian population will have or have had a mental health problem.

Poor mental health affects people of all ages, educational backgrounds, income levels and cultures in both personal and professional settings.

What is mental health and what causes mental health problems?

Mental health refers to the cognitive, behavioural and emotional well-being of a person, and it affects how they think, feel and act.

While there is no single leading cause for mental health issues, there are many potential factors that may contribute to poor mental health, including life experiences such as trauma or abuse, biological factors like genetics or brain chemistry, or a family history of mental health problems.

Some early warning signs of deteriorating mental health include eating or sleeping too much or too little, pulling away from loved ones and usual activities, having low or no energy, feeling helpless or hopeless and the inability to perform regular daily tasks.

Why does workplace mental health matter?

A staggering 44% of Canadian workers report that they currently have or have previously experienced a mental health issue. Three out of five employees report having experienced a mental health issue in the past year because of work, and two out of three employees facing mental health challenges don’t have access to the help they need.

Positive mental health at work is important for both employers and employees.

Employees who are happier and have good mental health demonstrate rising employee engagement and productivity, higher morale and higher job satisfaction.

And employers who focus on employee mental health can expect to see a reduction in absenteeism, company health costs, workplace injuries and medical leave or disability claims.

Ways to improve workplace mental health in Canada

Depression and anxiety disorders are common mental health disorders that not only impact the ability to work productively, but the ability to work at all. Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression alone.

A psychologically healthy workplace is a respectful and productive environment that makes every reasonable effort to promote and protect the mental health of employees.

Here are five ways to improve mental health in the workplace.

1. Build employee morale and rapport

Connecting with colleagues is a great way to build rapport and supportive relationships for the organization. Building a close bond with team members leads to peers who are available and willing to help and support each other during the highs and lows.

Frequently hosting company-wide happy hours, retreats, events and bonding activities can help foster great employee morale and satisfaction.

2. Offer opportunities to learn new skills

Encourage employees to learn a new skill or try something new by offering a professional development budget.

Stepping away from routine and learning a new skill can help employees ease their minds and serves as a positive distraction away from stress. Trying to learn something new leads to adrenaline and excitement and encourages employees to tap into their potential and discover something new.

Some bold ideas include professional development courses and programs, public speaking opportunities, mentorship programs or even shadowing a senior staff member.

3. Recognize employee contributions

Recognizing and rewarding the hard work and commitment employees demonstrate can go a long way in improving morale and confidence. Building and instilling a layer of confidence for a job well done helps boost employee satisfaction, retention and productivity.

4. Support a healthy and active lifestyle

Employees who exercise or work out regularly tend to enjoy better physical, emotional and mental health.

Exercise is known to release endorphins, enhancing one’s mood and contributing to higher self-esteem and better mental health. Exercise also helps improve cognitive function, enhance quality of sleep and maintain a healthy weight.

Encourage employees to get some exercise in during their breaks or before or after work, even if it’s just a light walk. One way to incorporate this is by setting a time for the team to step away from the computer and take an outdoor walk together.

Other ideas include providing employees with a wellness benefit to use on going to the gym or introducing an in-house gym at the office if space allows.

5. Encourage taking time off

Taking time off can help employees de-stress. In addition to paid vacation days and sick days, offer mental health days or allow employees to use sick days for days of mental rest.

Employers who recognize the importance of mental health should encourage their employees to prioritize their health and well-being.

World Mental Health Day 2022

World Mental Health Day is recognized every year on October 10. This day helps raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilize efforts in support of mental health.

Employers are responsible for protecting the health and safety of their employees. Building a supportive work environment that promotes positive mental well-being has benefits for everyone and keeps the workforce stronger, happier and more competitive.

Published October 7, 2022.