Mental Health in the Workplace

mental health

Featured Columnist in Whistler Question newspaper – August 9, 2012

People with mental health issues often face a stigma or discrimination that can result in problems getting hired, promoted or keeping a job, as well as in receiving proper healthcare or insurance.

Mental illness is often equated with serious disorders that prevent a person from functioning normally but nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, the majority of mental health conditions can be treated, allowing people to recover and lead normal, productive and satisfying lives.

Mental illness is defined as:  “a psychological pattern, potentially reflected in behaviour, that is generally associated with distress or disability.”  Some of these conditions are mood, eating, anxiety, personality and attention deficit disorders, as well as schizophrenia, addictions and dementia.  One in five Canadians will experience a mental illness over the course of their lives, with mental health issues being the number one cause of disability in Canada.

Whistler comes with its own set of challenges, by virtue of our young workforce.  Employees are often living on their own for the first time, away from their family network, and suddenly living a social lifestyle common in resorts.  Add struggles that come with a high cost of living and there lies opportunity for mental illness.

Whereas employers often rush to discipline employees for poor performance, it’s important to consider there may be a mental health problem if accompanied with the following signs: consistent lateness or absences; lack of cooperation; decreased productivity; increased accidents; fatigue; difficulty concentrating; less involvement at work; strange or grandiose ideas; anger or defensiveness.

Employers have a responsibility to provide an employee with the opportunity to get the support, professional help, and workplace accommodation they need so that they can continue working productively.

Creating an environment of openness is critical so that employees are more likely to disclose that they have a mental illness.  If they are confident their disclosure will remain confidential, and that the organization will respond to their needs, as well as a zero tolerance towards harassment, they are more likely to come forward.

Claire Mozes, Program Manager at Whistler Community Service Society (www.mywcss.org) suggests that if employers or coworkers are worried about a colleague’s behaviour, they can be most helpful by showing genuine concern and simply asking the person how things are going.  Claire also recommends contacting WCSS at 604-932-0113 as their Outreach Workers can answer questions about available services.

One such service is Whistler Mental Health and Addiction Services.  Jennifer Schnier, a Vocational Rehabilitation Coordinator can provide information on employing persons dealing with mental illness and available wage subsidies, and will visit local businesses to deliver presentations on mental health in your workplace.  Jennifer can be emailed at jennifer.schnier@vch.ca .

As Principal of Lighthouse Visionary Strategies, Cathy Goddard offers small business consulting, learning workshops and engaging Open Forums.  She is the founder of Lighthouse’s Mentor Network, providing multiple mentor groups to local professionals.  Cathy writes this column for the Whistler Question newspaper and can be reached at cathy@lighthousevisionary.com or 604.905.8660.

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