Did you know that mental health is included in the UN Sustainable Development Goals?
“Promoting mental health and well-being, and the prevention and treatment of substance abuse, are integral parts of the Sustainable Development Agenda to transform our world by 2030 adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 2015.” Learn more about the World Health Organization
One in five Canadians experience a mental health condition. Bmy the age of 40, 1 in 2 Canadians have or previously had a mental health condition.1 Mental health, defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” 2 The mental health of a person fluctuates and at any point of time is affected by multiple stressors that may be social, psychological, and biological in nature. Mental health refers to striking a balance in all aspects of life: social, physical, spiritual, economic and mental. Reaching a balance is a learning process, it is not a one size fits all approach, instead it is unique for every individual. Our challenge is staying mentally healthy by maintaining the balance, which is easier said than done. While physical health is easy to measure and discussed openly, mental health is under the surface and often not discussed.. Every year on October 10, the WHO celebrates World Mental Health Day. This day is an opportunity for us to reflect on our own mental health and think about ways we can contribute towards supporting people in our community who are living with mental illnesses, as well as call attention to a timely mental health issue. The theme for this year’s issue is “Mental Health in the Workplace” 3
During our lives, we spend a significant amount of time at our workplace. Our experience at our there is one of the aspects that affects our mental well-being. Unemployment is a recognized risk factor while employment or returning to work is a protective factor against mental health problems. Conversely, employment in a negative working environment such as a workplace where individuals face bullying or psychosocial harassment adversely affect the employee’s’ mental health, which may be accountable for depression and anxiety, harmful use of substances or alcohol, absenteeism, lost productivity and a high turnover rate. In fact, mental health is seldomly considered as a key aspect of an employee’s’ health, yet, the WHO highlights depression as the leading cause of disability worldwide. A study by WHO researchers estimated that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity. Many of these illnesses can be treated, but access to treatment is often difficult, and stigma may prevent people from obtaining services even when they are available.4
As a healthy workplace benefits both workers and employers, therefore, the question arises, how do we create a healthy workplace? The answer is easier said than done, that is, the onus lies on both the workplace management team and its employees’ in being proactive and leading by example. However, it seems that this is seldom the case. Consequently, in July this year, an utterly empathetic response from a chief executive to his employee who was taking a break to cope with mental health issues took social media by storm. “It prompted thousands of retweets, garnered dozens of headlines when an employee who had written that she suffers from anxiety and depression, wrote an email to her colleagues saying she’d be out for a couple of days to “focus on my mental health.” Her chief executive replied by thanking her, saying every time she sends an email like that “I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health” and “you are an example to us all, and help us cut through the stigma.” 5 This sets a strong example of the meaning of a healthy workplace, illustrating the willingness of the employee to be open about her mental health as well as the employer positively acknowledging his employee’s needs and reminding his colleagues to do the same. This teaches us that we need to be open and acknowledge each other’s mental health needs in order to foster mental well-being in the workplace, which will help to decrease negative attitudes and discrimination and empower individuals to promote mental health and dignity for all.
Michelle Chakraborti is a a 4th year PhD Candidate in the Experimental Medicine graduate program at the University of British Columbia. She is passionate about policy issues around child and family health. My dissertation is grounded on the World Health Organization’s framework on functioning and disability (ICF-CY) that highlights family as the most salient environmental factor affecting child development. For her dissertation, Michelle evaluate’s BC-based physical activity programs for children with neurodevelopmental disorders as an avenue to support and strengthen families’ health. Michelle is also a volunteer with the Let’s Talk Science program at UBC, a national program geared towards engaging children in science. As a part of the UNA Vancouver content writing team, she writes about issues/policies on health related to the mandate of the World Health Organization. If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would it be and why? France! I’ve always wanted to visit France ever since I learned the language as a child. I admire the culture, architecture and love the food as well as I would be able to test my language skills!
(1) Smetanin et al. (2011). The life and economic impact of major mental illnesses in Canada: 2011-2041. Prepared for the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Toronto: RiskAnalytica.
(2) http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/mental_health/en/ (accessed October 3, 2017)
(4) Report by the World Mental Health Federation on World Mental Health Day 2017 (https://www.wfmh.global/wmh-day/wmhd-theme-2017/; accessed October 5, 2017)