Workplace Mental Health a Growing Concern


A staggering one in five Canadians struggle with the burden of mental health issues such as stress, anxiety and depression, among others.[i] The everyday challenges that these individuals experience puts a significant strain on not only their personal, but also their professional lives. Employers continue to grapple with the impacts of mental health issues in the workplace and to identify the best means of supporting their employees – enter Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).

EAPs provide employees with counselling and referral services to help them cope with mental health issues, which are the leading cause of long-term disability, and a major cause of short-term disability, conflict at work and absence. In fact, in an average week, more than 500,000 Canadians will not go to work because of mental illness.[ii],[iii] While EAPs are an important means of providing assistance to address a wide variety of problems, the question remains, how well known and understood are these programs among the Canadian workforce?

Now, a new research study, Investigating the global value of a Canadian Employee Assistance Program, demonstrates the benefits of EAPs to employees and employers alike: improving quality of life, reducing the economic challenges of reduced productivity in the workplace and easing the pressure on the Canadian health care system.

“We’ve long known that counselling and support services, like those offered by employee assistance programs, improve the lives of those struggling under the weight of difficult mental health issues such as anxiety and depression,” says Allan Stordy, President and CEO of Arete, a leading national provider of EAPs, unique business assistance programs (BAPs) and the commissioners of the study. “But now we can link these positive results to a very real cost savings for employers and our publicly funded health care system.”

According to the study, significant improvements in mental health were seen in individuals with access to an EAP with reductions in depression, anxiety and stress levels three months after the last counselling session. After EAP use, public health care utilization relating to specialist visits was reduced. Further, the study found that reduced work productivity and significant employer costs observed at intake highlighted an organizational need for the services. At time of intake, 66 per cent of participants had performance issues that produced an estimated average economic loss of $1,063 in the last four weeks for employers. This translated into an average annual loss per participant of almost $13,000 associated with absenteeism and presenteeism.

“As an employer, our main priority is to help our employees maintain a suitable work-life balance  and provide them with necessary supports when they have challenges in their lives that effect their work performance,” says Peter Stratton, Chief People Officer at Western Financial Group. “Instituting an EAP has enabled us to play an enhanced role in contributing to the overall well-being of our employees, particularly during last summer’s flood in Alberta. This program is a critical part of our employee benefit program and one which is well-respected by our Western staff.”

Individual, employer and social outcomes all contribute to improved workplace mental health. Through EAPs, positive impacts involving all stakeholders are achievable. Prior to entering the EAP program 66 per cent of all study participants reported having moderate, severe or extremely severe problems with stress, anxiety or depression. Three months after completing the counselling program less than 32 per cent fell into these same categories.

Living with Mental Health Issues

Mental illness can affect anyone, no matter the age, gender or race. Living with mental illness presents a significant burden for individuals and their family/friends, largely due to the fear and stigmas associated with the condition. Interestingly, a mere 50 per cent of Canadians are open with friends or co-workers about a family member with a mental illness in comparison to 72 per cent who openly discuss a diagnosis of cancer, for instance.[iv] Also of note is that 20 per cent of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness during their lifetime; however, maintaining good mental health is equally as important as maintaining good physical health.[v]

About the Study

Investigating the global value of a Canadian Employee Assistance Program is the first of its kind to examine the economic and social impact of mental health challenges and the value being provided by EAPs in helping people manage these issues. A sample of Canadian employees was voluntarily tracked before and three months after access to Arete’s EAP services Arive® and Acumin®.

[i] Smetanin, P., Stiff, D., Briante, C., Adair, C., Ahmad, S., & Khan, M. (2011). The life and economic impact of major mental illnesses in Canada: 2011 to 2041., RiskAnalytica, on behalf of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
[ii] Calculated from data in Dewa, Chau, and Dermer (2010), “Examining the Comparative Incidence and Costs of Physical and Mental Health-Related Disabilities in an Employed Population,” and Statistics Canada employment data.
[iii] Calculated from data in Institute of Health Economics (2007), “Mental Health Economics Statistics in Your Pocket,” and Statistics Canada – Labour Statistics Division (2011), “Work Absence Rates 2010.”
[iv] Canadian Medical Association (2008). 8th Annual National Report Card on Health Care.
[v] Public Health Agency of Canada. A Report on Mental Illnesses in Canada. Accessed January 2014.

For a copy of the complete report, please email your request to: Research conducted by Workreach Lab.


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