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August 26, 2020 • read

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How to improve mental health in the workplace

Workplaces play an essential role in nurturing positive mental health. Most adults spend more of their waking hours at work than anywhere else. Because of COVID-19, many people are still adjusting to working remotely from home. Spending a lot of time in the same environment while not seeing colleagues in person every day can take its toll on mental health. A stressful or taxing work environment can also contribute to the rise of mental health problems, which in turn has serious economic repercussions. 

According to the Canada Safety Council, mental health claims are the fastest growing category of disability costs in Canada. The economic burden of mental health problems in Canada is estimated at $51 billion per year. This includes healthcare costs, lost productivity, absenteeism, and reductions in quality of life. 

Mental health barriers in the workplace

Mental health includes an employee’s psychological, emotional, and social well-being. It affects how a person makes choices, relates to others, handles stress, and much more. Just like physical health, mental health affects everyone. Stress, depression, and anxiety can all affect an employee’s mental health.

To create a caring, safe, and healthy workplace culture that’s free of excessive mental stress, an organization’s commitment has to start at the top.

Simply emphasizing that mental health is just as important as physical health can go a long way and help reduce stigma in the workplace. Other ways you can have a positive impact on mental health include:

  • Promoting work-life balance.
  • Encouraging respectful behaviours, with a zero-tolerance policy for harassment. 
  • Managing workloads.
  • Having conflict resolution practices in place.
  • Recognizing employees’ contributions effectively.

Mental health still carries a stigma in the workplace and broader society. This often results in employees becoming fearful of being shamed or discriminated against if they come forward to speak to their manager about what’s affecting them.

Offering mental health educational resources and support can make a big difference. Organizations should let their employees know that it’s not a weakness to admit they’re experiencing mental health issues.

For employees to feel comfortable speaking up, they need to have a positive relationship with a supportive manager. If an employee believes mental health is looked down upon in the organization, they will be less likely to risk being vulnerable. It’s important to educate your managers on how to address and talk to their employees about mental health issues, to let employees know that mental health issues will be treated with compassion.

Signs and symptoms of mental health distress

Mental health distress can differ from person to person, making it difficult for employers to recognize symptoms in employees. In any given year, one in five people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness. Be aware of some of the common signs, including: 

  • Feeling sad or down
  • Mood changes, with more highs and more lows
  • Reduced ability to concentrate
  • Excessive fears or worries
  • Extreme feelings of guilt
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities
  • Low energy or problems sleeping
  • Difficulties coping with daily problems or stress
  • Changes in eating habits

It can be hard for employees to recognize that they’re experiencing mental health distress as it starts to feel familiar, or even normal. It’s important to communicate often about common signs and symptoms, and provide education around mental health to help employees more easily recognize their symptoms. 

Why virtual care is a game changer for mental health

With virtual care, employees can speak with a therapist from anywhere. They can schedule an appointment at a time that’s convenient for them or speak with someone as soon as possible. This flexibility removes friction when employees decide to seek help, making it easier to treat mental health problems affecting their performance at work or life at home.

As the world continues to adapt to remote working arrangements, telemedicine is well-positioned to support employees regardless of their location. Telemedicine provides access to a wide range of therapists and eliminates many barriers allowing for an efficient and convenient way to access the help they need without fearing judgment. 

If you’re interested in adding virtual care to your employee benefits package, or if you’d like more information about online counselling, get in touch.

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