Mental health problems and illnesses are the leading causes of short and long-term disability in Canadian workplaces—negatively affecting workers and their families, and costing the economy roughly $20 billion a year. Nearly a quarter of Canada’s working population is currently affected by mental health issues.

The former Workforce Advisory Committee of the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) worked on several initiatives to help employers change the way mental health is addressed in the workplace in order to better prevent mental health problems and illnesses.

Putting recommendations into practice
Acting on recommendations from Changing Directions, Changing Lives: A Mental Health Strategy for Canada, the MHCC’s past Workforce Advisory Committee developed tools to improve workforce mental health, with a focus on prevention. It also looked at barriers to job seeking, workforce reentry after illness, income sustainability and skill development.

Voluntary guidelines for workplace psychological health and safety
The voluntary National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace provides organizations with tools to achieve measurable improvement in psychological health and safety for Canadian employees. Its ultimate aim is to make the complex subject of mental health practical and relatable for employers so they can take steps to prevent mental injuries, reduce psychological risk and promote a mentally healthier workplace. A draft was released for public review in November 2011, with the final Standard launched to widespread acclaim in January, 2013.

Helping employers take action
The Psychological Health and Safety: An Action Guide for Employers released in January, 2012 was created for employers and human resources personnel considering programs and policies to improve psychological health in their organization. It is also relevant to frontline managers, union leaders, occupational health care providers, and legal and regulatory professionals. The 24 evidence-based actions in the guide offer flexible, practical tips that can be used in various types of workplaces. The guide also helps employers prepare to implement the Standard in their workplaces.

Supporting the aspiring workforce
A disproportionate number of people in Canada with serious mental illness are unemployed and the number of people with mental illness transitioning to disability income support programs is rising. The MHCC is studying the causes of what is holding back this “aspiring workforce” and will provide recommendations to ensure more people living with a mental health problem or illness achieve productive and lasting employment.

Encouraging policy and executive leadership
A set of executive leadership guidelines was published in 2010 to encourage CEOs and other senior leaders to make a decisive commitment to mental health in the workplace. The guidelines are an initial tool to help organizations that are focused on improving the psychological safety of employees in their workplace.

Examining trends toward improved workplace mental health
The MHCC commissioned workplace health expert Martin Shain, PhD, to examine the key issues around psychological health and safety in Canadian workplaces. Several related reports were released and provided excellent background information for other MHCC projects and reports:

Stress at Work, Mental Injury and the Law in Canada (2009)
Tracking the Perfect Legal Storm (2010)
The Road to Psychological Safety (2011)