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Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

Mental Health Awareness for Managers

An integrated approach

Jan Mitchell, MEd, CHRP

Reprinted from "Workplaces" issue of Visions Journal, 2009, 5 (3), p.26

Sigmund Freud once said, “Love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness.” Freud was perhaps one of the first to recognize the connection between work and mental health. Since his time (1856-1939), a lot of research has shown that work is important, if not essential, to a person’s mental well–being.

Over the past decade we have seen a worrisome trend: mental health conditions are on the rise and workplaces are seeing a steady increase in mental health disability claims. When compared to all other diseases (e.g., cancer and heart disease), mental illness and addiction rank first and second in terms of causing disability in Canada, the United States and Western Europe. The estimated cost of these disabilities to the Canadian economy is $25 billion dollars per year.

Healthcare Benefit Trust (HBT) is a health benefits provider for the health care and community social services sector in BC. We at HBT have seen, first-hand, the impact that poor mental health has on claims costs. One quarter of all HBT’s long-term disability claims are for mental health. Depression alone accounts for two-thirds of these claims.

In recent years, HBT has taken steps to help its member organizations lower rising claims costs. We do this through prevention and health promotion, early intervention and disability management programs.

Prevention and health promotion—a new mental health resource

On the prevention side, HBT recently launched an online resource guide for managers. The guide is tailored to the needs of the health care and community social service sector. Supported by the research literature and assessed needs, HBT partnered with industry representatives and subject matter experts to develop a web-based resource titled Mental Health Resource Guide for Managers.

This comprehensive guide is made up of seven modules that touch on workplace mental health. The modules are:

  1. Understanding Mental Health

  2. Recruitment and Orientatio

  3. At Work and In Distress

  4. Off Work

  5. Return to Work and Accommodation

  6. Self Care for Managers

  7. References and Resources

The guide provides practical information to help managers take positive steps to support employees who have mental health concerns. It covers everything from recruiting and training a new employee, to supporting someone who is in distress at work, to helping that person return to work. The guide also outlines human rights laws and industry-specific collective agreements that govern the actions of management. There are also references and links throughout the guide to provide managers with even more information.

There is a specific section in the guide on how managers can look after their own mental health. We recognize that managers, in order to look after others, first need to look after themselves.

The guide is supported by additional resources that utilize multimedia and multi-format approaches to accommodate various learning styles. One-day educational forums showcase each module within the guide. These forums provide opportunities for industry members to explore issues in greater depth and learn from each other. In addition, a handy reference booklet was developed that managers can keep close at hand for quick access to key pointers from each module.

The guide was piloted from September to December 2008 by 60 managers within health care and the community social services. Participating managers received a bi-weekly e-mail survey asking for feedback on each module. This feedback was used to make further improvements to the guide prior to its release to all 650 HBT member organizations in the spring of 2009.

Early Intervention

HBT provides its members with an Early Intervention Program (EIP). The EIP provides medical case management for permanent employees that have been off work for more than five consecutive days. Services may include assessment, treatment and management of employees with mental health and addiction issues.

The focus of EIP is to proactively assist workers—in a caring, safe and timely manner—to reduce sick leave and to prevent or shorten a long-term disability claim. It’s a collaborative program involving the employee and their physician, as well as an HBT medical case manager, the union and the employer. The case manager works with the eligible employee to ensure that all necessary medical care is provided and, in cooperation with the employer and union, to develop a return-to-work plan.

Disability management

The HBT Disability Management Services (DMS) program offers rehabilitation and medical coordination services to health care and community social service employers. An effective disability management program goes a long way to improving outcomes for individual employees by assisting them to stay at work, or, to return to work as soon as they are able.

An HBT member organization can access DMS if an employee is struggling to remain at work due to a medical issue, or if the employee is off work with a disability but hasn’t yet qualified for disability benefits. The goal of the DMS is to help eligible employees stay at work safely, or shorten or avoid their use of sick leave.

The program offers services such as case management and service coordination, functional assessments, vocational assessments and retraining, exercise or work conditioning programs, counselling and return-to-work program planning.

Supporting mental health in the workplace

Mental disabilities are often more challenging to identify and respond to appropriately in the workplace. What research and experience has shown is that we can make a difference in our workplaces through:4-5

  • effective leadership and management

  • supportive policy and procedures management and employee education and training

  • communication efforts that strive to reduce stigma

  • early intervention and disability management programs that follow best practices

HBT is one of many partners in health care that are raising awareness of employee mental health. Through collective action and shared learning, we can improve mental health practices in our workplaces and reduce both the economic and human costs.

About the author
Jan has worked with Healthcare Benefit Trust for 16 years. She has been Workplace Health Consultant, Manager of Prevention and Health Promotion and, more recently, Interim Manager of Stakeholder Education and Communication. Recent projects include development of mental health awareness forums for managers and a web-based mental health resource guide
  1. Jahoda, M. (1980). Employment and unemployment: A social-psychological analysis. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

  2. Luthans, F. (2002). The need for and meaning of positive organizational behavior. Journal of Organizational Behaviour, 23(6), 695-706.

  3. Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. (006, May). Out of the shadows at last: Transforming mental health, mental illness and addiction services in Canada. The Senate of Canada.

  4. Kelloway, K. & Day, A. (2005) Building healthy workplaces: What we know so far. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 37(4), 223-235.

  5. McInturff, B. & McCleskey, N. (2004). A study of depression in the workplace. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Depression Center



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