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Untreated Mental Health and Addiction: A Most Dangerous Workplace Hazard

Originally written for the Ontario Occupational Health Nurses Association (OOHNA) Xpress (Sept/Oct 2021)

Unchecked and untreated mental health disorders and addiction are slowing down both Canadian workers and their organizations—and the pandemic has only made it worse. But a new treatment program can help employees recover without having to give up their careers.

Nurses and doctors clocking long hours, face-to-face with the virus. Office employees working in solitude or surrounded by their children. Military service members sitting helpless at home. Few careers have been untouched by the pandemic, and for many Canadians it has led to increased cases of depression, anxiety, and dependence on drugs and alcohol.

But it’s not all bad news. The pandemic has shone a spotlight on workplace mental health and addiction like never before. What once felt like a dirty little secret that could destroy one’s career has now become part of the mainstream conversation. While it will take years to undo the stigma, we are moving in the right direction. And new treatment options offer new hope for recovery.

BUBBLING UNDER THE SURFACE

Long before COVID-19, mental health disorders and addiction had been quietly harming workers across Canada.  Depression, anxiety, burnout, Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), Operational Stress Injury (OSI), and substance abuse have each been impacting our workplace performance and productivity, while also eroding our quality of life.

Workplace wellbeing solutions provider, LifeWorks, says that “a study of workplace mental health conducted in Canada found that employees would report to managers that they were ‘sick’ rather than disclosing mental health issues.”

And while some have embraced remote work during the pandemic (a little longer to sleep in, no public transit or traffic jams), for others, working from home has actually made both their home life and work life more stressful. Those with children have found it hard to manage, and some have found the solitude particularly triggering. Women in particular have shown it has impacted them more than their male counterparts.

 

Studies from the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction found that during the pandemic “more females report moderate-to-severe anxiety symptoms than males (29% vs 20%), with even higher rates for females than males in households with kids under 13 (37% vs 24%). And females in households with kids under 13 report higher rates of increased substance use than males (37% vs 26% for alcohol, 48% vs 37% for cannabis).”

Is returning to work the solution? Not for everyone. Forty-six percent of Canadian employees are also reporting feelings of stress and anxiety around plans to head back to the office—or a simple lack of transparency from their companies.

STIGMA IS COSTING COMPANIES

While symptoms take their toll on employees, businesses and organizations are also dealing with the economic fallout. Increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, and higher rates of disability leave are all hurting Canadian organizations—to the tune of $51 billion per year, according to CAMH.

Where to begin fixing the problem? An employee coming to terms with their mental health or addiction is the first step. But a nefarious outside force can also be stopping them from seeking help: stigma.

A McKinsey study with a sample of the U.S. workforce found that “many employees with a behavioral-health condition indicated that they would avoid treatment because they didn’t want people finding out about their mental illness (37%) or substance-use disorder (52%).

Stigma was also associated with lower workforce productivity. Close to seven in ten respondents with high self-stigma levels reported missing at least a day of work because of burnout or stress.”

We do seem to be turning a corner, however. As more people talk publicly about their struggles, especially those in leadership roles, the more it is encouraging others to do the same.

And many organizations are beefing up their mental health coverage for employees.

GOOD FOR EMPLOYEES AND COMPANIES

While some companies may be dragging their feet over cost hesitations, offering treatment for employees actually shows long-term return on investments.

Deloitte assessed companies who already offer mental health treatment. Their findings: for every dollar invested, “the median yearly ROI on mental health programs was CA$1.62 among the seven companies that provided at least three years’ worth of data. Companies whose programs had been in place for three or more years had a median yearly ROI of CA$2.18.”

So, a good decision for employees is also a good one for a company’s bottom line.

A NEW WAVE OF TREATMENT OPTIONS

Those struggling with mental health or addiction often avoid seeking treatment for many reasons: the aforementioned stigma, feeling like they cannot step away from professional and family obligations, or a lack of available resources or treatment options. Knowing the barriers to seeking help, what can help businesses capitalize on the potential return on investing in workplace mental health?

The pandemic has ushered in a new wave of online services that make it possible for employees to get the care they need, while still maintaining their workplace responsibilities and caring for their families.

EHN Canada, a network of treatment facilities across Canada, works closely with progressive employers to enhance strong workplace mental health solutions. Last year, with rising demand for higher intensity programs to address worsening symptoms,  they launched their virtual Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs).

EHN’s online IOPs treat depression and anxiety, substance use disorders, and workplace trauma, but they are more than simply an app or online counselling. An IOP is a structured blend of individual and group therapy sessions spanning 8 weeks, followed by 10 months of online aftercare designed to help clients stay on track. The evidence-based approach and use of group counselling truly set this option apart from the rest, giving clients an immersive and elevated experience that produces results.

Also included is access to EHN Online’s Wagon app to help set goals, track recovery progress, and monitor triggers; a team of strong clinical experts, specifically trained in providing online treatment; and the flexibility and convenience of therapy that can accommodate busy lifestyles.

To find out more about Intensive Outpatient Treatment and how it fits into a comprehensive workplace mental health strategy, visit ehnonline.ca.

EHN CAN HELP

Whether you’re an individual who needs help with your mental health or substance use, or an employer or healthcare provider with a client in need of support, EHN Canada can help. We offer proven, best practices that treat concurrent disorders and support patients in achieving and maintaining long-term recovery. Call any of the numbers below, 24/7, to discover how our evidence-based treatments and qualified staff can help you.

  • Bellwood (Toronto, ON): 866-281-3012
  • Edgewood (Vancouver Island, BC): 604-210-8713
  • Ledgehill (Lawrencetown, NS): 866-419-4483
  • Sandstone (Calgary, AB): 866-295-8981
  • Gateway (Peterborough, Ontario): 705-874-2000
  • Nouveau Depart (Montreal, Quebec): 866-738-5572
  • Outpatient Services (Multiple locations): 866-345-8192