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Prevalence of poor mental health higher in workplace than general population: Report

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A Conference Board of Canada profile of mental health reveals that prevalence rates of mental health disorders are more than 60 per cent higher among working Canadians than the general population.

Women, younger workers and those employed in the services sector are particularly vulnerable and more likely to experience mental health issues.

“Mental health and mental illness have come out of the shadows and moved into Canadian living rooms and board rooms thanks to many awareness campaigns,” said Carole Stonebridge, senior associate researcher and co-author of the report. “However, in Canadian workplaces the stigma of mental illness persists and employers are often ill equipped to deal with employee mental health issues. Given the impact on working Canadians and costs for businesses, this is cause for concern.”

The report,

Healthy Brains at Work: The Footprint of Mental Health Conditions

, provides a detailed look at the prevalence of mental illness in the employed population. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, around 4.2 million employed Canadians are living with a mental illness. Of these, about 279,000 have a mental or psychological disability, meaning that daily activities are limited as a result of the impairment.

Women are more likely than men to experience mental health issues. More than one-half (53 per cent) of all employed Canadians with a mental illness are women. As well, a growing number of younger workers are living with a mental illness. Young people between the ages of 15 and 24 were the most likely to have experienced mood disorders (eight per cent) or major depressive episodes (seven per cent) within the past year.

Occupations with the highest prevalence of mental illness in a worker’s lifetime were linked to the services sector. Industries such as information and culture, government services and accommodation and food services had the highest prevalence of mental illness, with nearly 20 per cent of the workforce having lived with either a mood disorder of generalized anxiety.

Of note, a 2013 Statistics Canada report revealed that the prevalence of self-reported major depressive episodes, post traumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety among individuals in the Canadian Armed Forces was two to three times higher than the general population. In contrast, occupations linked to industries such as agriculture, forestry and mining had the lowest prevalence of mental illness.

“This profile of mental health in Canada reveals that mental illness is more common in the workplace than previously imagined and the potential costs to employers can be significant,” added Stonebridge.

Mental health issues are among the most common causes of absences in the workplace. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, mental illness accounts for about 30 per cent of all short-term and long-term disability claims in Canada and it is has been estimated that the value of these claims ranges from $15 to $33 billion annually. Similarly, a 2012 Conference Board of Canada report estimated that mental illness costs Canada $20 billion annually due to lost labour force participation due to absenteeism and presenteeism.

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