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1.5 million in Toronto-area labour force have experienced mental health issue: Report

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It is estimated one in two people (more than 1.5 million) in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area’s (GTHA) labour force have experienced a mental health issue, such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and substance use, according to a report by CivicAction.

The report claims current mental health issues in the GTHA labour force could result in almost $17 billion in lost productivity over the next 10 years.

“This is one of the defining public health issues of our time, one that is increasingly impacting our personal health and our economic potential as a region,” said Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO of CivicAction. “Our mental health touches every part of our lives, including our workplaces, so to change the culture at work will improve the overall quality of life in the GTHA.”

Six in 10 employees said emotional/interpersonal issues are the top source of workplace stress, according to the report, which drew on a survey of 1,023 employees. The top emotional/interpersonal issue identified is the culture of the workplace. More than one-quarter (27 per cent) of employees report significant stress symptoms — a risk factor for mental health issues. Eighty-two per cent of those who reported mental health issues said it impacts their work.

In a region that is highly urbanized and culturally diverse with modest economic growth, mental health in the workplace is one of the key determinants of prosperity, said CivicAction. People in the GTHA workforce face a number of economic and social challenges that can negatively impact their state of mental health:

Income inequality:

The gap between the rich and everyone else in Toronto ballooned by 31 per cent between 1980 and 2005, the most drastic increase of any major Canadian city.

Job insecurity:

Fewer than one-half of all workers in the Greater Toronto Area are in permanent, full-time jobs.

Racial discrimination:

Research shows resumes with English-sounding names are 35 per cent more likely to receive call-backs than identical resumes with Indian or Chinese names.

Family care demands:

Over the next 10 years, people in the GTHA workforce could provide an estimated 450 million hours of informal caregiving to people with dementia alone, a productivity opportunity cost of $30.4 billion.

•Housing conditions and affordability:

The average home in Toronto cost more than $600,000 by the end of 2015.

“The social case is there and the business case is clear with 82 per cent of those who report mental health issues saying it impacts their work,” said Rupert Duchesne, group chief executive at Aimia. “It’s time to move on this issue and step up as businesses and as individuals.”

There area many things employers can do to support workers, found the report. Firstly, managers need to be trained on how to recognize changes in behaviour and how to respond. Forty-two per cent of employees said that the top priority is “managers knowing what to do” when an employee shows signs of distress. Executives should be encouraged to talk openly about mental health. Offering an employee and family assistance program (EFAP) can also be beneficial. About 60 per cent of working Ontarians have access to an EFAP, found the report.

For workers, it's important they know to start a conversation if they notice a change in someone’s behaviour. They should also stay connected with people who are off work (send an email, a card or visit); learn about employee services that are available to help colleagues having emotional or mental health challenges; and talk about making your workplace stigma-free. Seven in 10 (71 per cent) of employees are concerned about workplace stigma, found the survey.

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