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Mental Health and Suicide in the Workplace

By May 3, 2021 No Comments

Did you know that claims related to mental health are growing the most in Canada, and that suicide is among the top 10 leading causes of death, killing approximately 4000 Canadians each year?

There is no doubt that work can give your employees a sense of accomplishment and is good for mental health. But bad stress induced by a lack of resources to do what is required, poor communication and management practices, and unclear tasks can make your employees feel like they do not perform well or are inadequate.

Poor mental health in the workplace leads to very real and direct costs to businesses and to the economy. Each year, the economic burden of mental illness is estimated at $51 billion. The indirect costs can be seen in the prevalence of absenteeism, of presenteeism in the workplace as well as employee turnover.

So, if you thought that the mental health of your employees was none of your business, think again.


The Stigma Around Mental Health Issues

Unfortunately, we live in a culture that stigmatizes mental illness, making it harder for people contemplating suicide to reach out for help, especially when those people are performing “fine” at work or projecting a sense of “success”. So, it might come to you as a shock when you hear about a famous person who has unexpectedly become a suicide victim.

The truth is, anyone can feel suicidal, at any point in their life. Mental health issues are as real as any disease and they can be just as painful, if not more so. For some, the pain can be so overwhelming that ending their life seems like the only way out. Yet, there is little clarity around how to talk about it. Therefore, we need to work together to start the conversation, about how to properly address mental health in the workplace.


A Healthy Workplace

Because mental illnesses and times of stress or uncertainty are often related, your workplace should support work-life balance, have a supportive culture and value job satisfaction as these environments tend to have fewer problems related to stress. You should avoid unclear tasks, inflexible working hours, and poor communication and management practices.

The government of Canada suggests eight practices to help:

  • Support employee participation and decision-making
  • Define employees’ duties and responsibilities
  • Promote work-life balance
  • Encourage and model respectful behaviours
  • Manage workloads
  • Provide training and learning opportunities
  • Have conflict resolution practices in place
  • Recognize employees’ contributions effectively


How to Help Your Team

To help your team, you should make sure that your workplace is healthy. If you need to create policies or to mitigate some issues, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) offers a hub full of tools to support your endeavours.

If one of your employees shows signs of depression, it is important to recognize it. You may feel uncomfortable talking about mental health and suicide but bringing it up is often the best thing you can do. If you feel unsure of how to approach this, reach out to Human Resources or any other talent managers that may be more informed on your company’s support policies.

Extending beyond the workplace, if you think someone close to you is suicidal, talking to them openly and honestly is a good first step. Ask them directly if they are thinking about suicide. If they are, you can help connect them to mental health professionals, crisis and suicide prevention centres, support groups, and other resources. Even the simple act of listening and showing that you care can make a difference. Talking about it won’t increase their risk of suicide, and may even save their life.

If they do not feel comfortable talking with you, here are some resources they can contact so they can talk to someone. Canada Suicide Prevention Service (CSPS) is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They can be reached at 1-833-456-4566 or 1-866-APPELLE if you are in Quebec. Between 5 p.m. and 1 a.m. (EST), you can reach CSPS by text at 45645 or by chat on their website. The LifeLine Canada Foundation offers a list of crisis centres, call lines, text chat lines, etc. You can also educate yourself and read their webpage on warning signs.


The Benefits of a Healthy Work Environment

It is important that your employees feel that their workplace is safe and psychologically healthy. Feeling supported in their well-being will increase engagement, satisfaction, as well as retention. It will also reduce health costs, medical leave and disability, absenteeism and presenteeism.

As you can see, creating a healthy workplace not only helps your employees, it also helps their productivity, and therefore, your company and its business!


If you think someone you know is in danger, call 9-1-1 immediately.