Tuesday 9 October 2012

"Home (?) Away From Home"

What does your job mean to you? Does it define you? Do you work simply to get that pay cheque or do you truly love what you do? What about your coworkers? Do they feel like family? Is your place of work your home away from home?

Considering how much time we spend at work, it sometimes feels like we are there more than we are actually at our real homes. We spend more time with colleagues than with our family & friends.

CBC News reported today about the findings of a new Ipsos Reid study on depression in the workplace. If you have been reading this blog on a regular basis you will recognize the statistic that one in five Canadians is suffering from mental illness. We already know that mental illness is a big problem. But how does it impact workplaces and the Canadian economy? In a big way, it turns out.

The study shows that 84% of managers surveyed feel that it's their responsibility to intervene when they see an employee displaying signs of depression. But 63% say they need better training on how to handle these situations. Kind of good news/bad news. It's great news that managers recognize that they need to play a role in supporting wellness but we clearly need to do a better job of equipping our leaders with the tools to do so in an effective and supportive manner.

My own experience in the workplace has been a mixed bag.  After disclosing my illness (I was in the midst of a major depressive episode), I had a manager once say to me, "Don't take things so personally." And my favourite, "Maybe you should consider a different job." Granted, this all may have been fabulous advice for someone who was healthy but not for someone suffering from a deep depression. In fact, my doctor was less than pleased at the suggestion that I consider changing jobs at that point. How did this make me feel? Not very good - I felt like my employer just wanted me and my "problem" to go away. Do employers say things like this to those fighting cancer? Hmm...

Overall I am one of the lucky ones - my current manager and employer were very supportive during my most recent depressive episode and subsequent recovery. I was able to take short term disability leave and my treatment (medication & cognitive behavioural therapy) was covered by my employee benefits. And when I returned to work I was able to do so on a graduated basis with the full support of my boss and my colleagues. Yes, I was very, very lucky. If I hadn't had that support it would have been a much harder battle for me. Thank you - you know who you are!

"There's a clear indication that for the single-most disabling disorder in all of health care, more than cancer and more than heart disease, namely depression… finally the vast majority of managers and supervisors understand that it is reasonable to intervene in some capacity," said Dr. Sagar Parikh, a psychiatrist at Toronto Western Hospital who studies workplace depression.

A recent study conducted by the scientists at CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) Foundation showed that those suffering from depression who receive treatment for a moderate depressive episode were two and half more times productive than those who were not. Sounds obvious, doesn't it? Get treatment and get better. Well, here's the cold, hard truth - 40% of the study participants who experienced a moderate depressive episode did not receive treatment. And of those suffering from a major depressive episode? Sadly, a whopping 57% did not receive treatment.

People who don't get treatment are unable to fully participate in their daily lives - their personal relationships suffer, they are unable to function effectively at work (if they are even able to attend work), and they suffer financial repercussions. The ultimate price to be paid, however, is loss of life.

So why don't people get treatment? Stigma is still alive and well. Many employees fear the reaction that they will receive from their employers. Although employers want to do the right thing, we are still miles away from being effective in how we approach this. Because we as a society don't speak openly about this issue enough, there is a lack of understanding about the resources and support available.

Back to the Canadian economy - what's the bottom line? Try $51billion annually. Yes, I said $51BILLION. One third of that is attributed to lost productivity. If it isn't enough to want to see healthy, functioning communities then maybe that number will hit home.

We all have a stake in this and each of us can make a difference. Want to learn more about how you can make your workplace healthier and support those with mental illness? Please visit the link to the Canadian Mental Health Association below:


Here's wishing you a happy & healthy home away from home!

KB xo

Sources: CBC News; CAMH Foundation; Canadian Mental Health Association

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