TACKLING STIGMA AND CREATING A PSYCHOLOGICALLY SAFE WORKPLACE
CULTURE REQUIRES AN INTEGRATED SYSTEM; IT IS NOT AN ISOLATED
PROGRAM OR A TICK ON A CHECKLIST OF UNRELATED ACTIVITIES.
Let’s face it... we all have a bad day
from time to time. But when bad
days string together and become
chronic, serious physical and psychological
side effects can negatively impact
our work performance and relationships
Mental illnesses like depression and
anxiety cost Canadian workplaces over
$50 billion a year in lost productivity, benefits
costs, disability leaves, presenteeism
and absenteeism, according to the Mental
Health Commission of Canada (MHCC).
This figure is estimated to be understated
as employees suffering from a mental illness
are often doing so alone – so great is
the fear of stigma surrounding mental illness
and mental disorders. While one in
five Canadians will experience a mental illness
in any given year, that number is likely
closer to one in three if full disclosure were
made. In fact, the Conference Board of
Canada (2002) suggests that 51 per cent
of employees keep quiet about their mental
Consider for a moment your own workplace.
If one in five of your workforce is
suffering a mental illness, what is that
costing your company in lost productivity?
What are you doing to build awareness of
workplace mental health in a manner that
encourages mental health conversations as
a normal part of doing business?
We have seen public figures such as
Olympian Clara Hughes, actress Margot
Kidder and Margaret Trudeau share their
stories freely with the intention of breaking
down stigma by starting the conversation.
Pop culture is attempting the same with
popularized television shows like Big Bang
Theory, Glee and Homeland depicting characters
both struggling and thriving with a
mental illness diagnosis in an attempt to
change our perception of mental illness.
But is this public storytelling enough to
break the cycle of stigma? Well, it is certainly
an important start and progress is
being made... slowly.
HOW THE WORKPLACE
Unfortunately, negative mental health stereotypes
still exist in the workplace, making
it challenging for anyone suffering to
get access to resources they desperately
need. As a result, employers play a critical
role in de-stigmatizing mental illness and
performance managing with genuine concern
and mental health in mind.
People with mental illness might be our
parents, our children, our neighbours, a
co-worker or it might be us. Mental illness
is not rare and can be severe or mild; it
may have periods of relapse or recurrence
but there are very successful treatments
available to allow one to realize their potential
and contribute productively at
work, at home and in the community.
After all, mental illness is a disease, not a
fault of character.
Workplaces can either help or hinder
people’s performance, mental health and
Tackling stigma and creating a psychologically
safe workplace culture requires
an integrated system; it is not an isolated
program or a tick on a checklist of unrelated
activities. Canada’s National Standard
for Psychological Health and Safety
in the Workplace, released January 2013
by MHCC, though voluntary, offers Canadian
employers with a solid framework to
assess, adapt, train and protect employees
from psychological harm while promoting
psychological wellbeing practices in the
Here are some examples of mental
health stigma-fighting initiatives:
1. Policy and leadership
The most important component of
any workplace mental health strategy
is leadership endorsement and topdown
Establish a well-communicated
zero-tolerance policy on all forms
of harassment and discrimination.
Active endorsement and participation
in mental health initiatives by
management and unions sends a
clear message to staff of the importance
of addressing mental health in
HRPATODAY.CA ❚ JANUARY 2014 ❚ 39