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Businesswoman looking out window (Steve Hix/Somos Images/Fuse/Getty Images/Fuse)

Guest column

Are mental health issues weighing on your small business? Add to ...

When WhatsApp founders made the infamous $19-billion sale to Facebook in February 2014, their staff was only 55 people. And this company is not the exception. Ninety eight per cent of Canadian ventures are small businesses with a staff of fewer than 100 people. That might surprise some, but startup entrepreneurs and small business owners know well that small, heavily-tasked teams like these are now the norm.

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With this new reality – lean startups and down-scaled staffing – the stakes are exponentially higher when it comes to the role of any individual on your team. That’s why many entrepreneurs (the savvy ones, anyway) dedicate a great deal of time to team-building, creating an air of optimism and excitement amidst the hard work and long hours. They take a genuine interest in their staff and build long-term working relationships that are mutually beneficial. Many things have changed, but the age-old saying that a happy worker is a productive worker remains strong business advice to this day.

Mental health is a key element of this team-building process, and yet one that many entrepreneurs and small business owners fail to consider. With the startling new statistic, that one in five Canadians will battle a significant mental health issue (some studies actually say one in four), there is effectively no business venture in the country that cannot take mental health awareness, education and support into account. Mental health issues might present as an “off-day,” an employee’s lack of usual at-work engagement, more and more frequent sick days, or a downward spiral in the quality of their work. These behaviours can be especially detrimental for small businesses in terms of productivity and development. Since we often depend on such small teams, a mental health issue amongst your staff is not just a regrettable experience or a hard time, it’s downright bad for business.

And since mental illness still carries such stigma, especially in working environments, it’s an area in which the healthy communication circuit you’ve built between you and your team might experience a brief haywire.

I had the privilege of delving deeper into this issue when ScholarLab partnered with the Canadian Mental Health Association-Ontario Division (CMHA) to take mental health education online. I considered first-hand how to banish stigma from the workplace, recognize early signs of a mental health issue, approach discussion and when appropriate, develop solutions. I learned that in my strategy to inspire staff, to encourage price in their work and to maintain a sense of camaraderie among the team, mental health was very much a part of the discussion.

I also learned that one of the possible reasons that mental illness still carries such an adverse stigma is because of its inherently sensitive nature as a subject of discussion. An individual’s take on mental illness is a complex storyline – a unique narrative of their personal experiences – and confronting this narrative can be a tall order.

In terms of dollars and cents, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) reported that the cost of mental illness to the Canadian economy is approximately $51-billion per year. Ask yourself if you might be turning a blind eye in your own workplace. We take strategic approaches to maintaining the strength of our businesses, so why should mental health not play into that strategy?

Dr. Laurelle Jno Baptiste is the co-founder and COO of ScholarLab.com, a mobile friendly platform for online learning and collaboration. ScholarLab is accessed by almost a million learners in 50+ countries. She is considered one of the leading figures of online education.

Want to take the pulse of how you’re managing your stress, and if you’re at risk of depression? Take The Globe and Mail’s Your Life at Work Survey and find out your score. Read more stories at tgam.ca/yourlifeatwork

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