InFocus Employee Health & Well-Being

Peer support systems are “life-altering” - MHCC

Mar 05, 2015

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Getting a handle on workplace mental health is a top priority for many employers but when the issue is so endemic, it can be hard to know what to do. Now, the Mental Health Commission of Canada says there’s at least one thing every manager should be introducing.

“Peer support systems are extremely important,” asserts Louise Bradley, president and CEO of MHCC. “When done in the right place and at the right time, they can be life altering and even life-saving.”

According to recent research conducted by the commission, 14 per cent of Canadian employees don’t think their workplace is psychologically healthy or safe and 70 per cent expressed some degree of concern over psychological safety.

The investigation also found that, despite the high levels of concern, only a third of Canadians with mental health problems actually talk to someone in a position to help.

“Most workplaces in Canada have access to EAP programs but to have a good strong peer support program is equally important,” insists Bradley.

“When this is done in a formal way – be it a support network which is acknowledged and legitimized by the employer or a trained peer support worker – you can see huge improvement.”

“But quite often, just to hear from someone; ‘I know what it’s like, I’ve been there’ – that’s dramatically effective,” she continued.

The financial aspect of mental illness can also be crippling for some companies – 70 per cent of all disability costs are attributed to mental health related situations and the Canadian economy is hit with a $51 billion bill for health and social services, income support, and lost productivity every year.

To add to that, in any given week, an average of 500,000 Canadians are absent from work due to mental illness. It’s something Bradley says employers just can’t afford to ignore.

“To not pay attention to mental health, whether you’re an employer or part of a company, will not allow for a successful business,” she warned. “The bottom line will be impacted, staff morale will be impacted, a company’s ability to attract good people and – just as importantly – their ability to keep good people is going to be impacted.”

But Bradley agrees that most employers are taking a more pro-active role in preventing mental illness in the workplace – but she says more can always be done.

“Very often businesses and organizations are already doing good things to look after the mental health of their employees – but we need to do more of it and do better of it,” urges Bradley. “This isn’t about just implementing the standard.”
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