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Mental Illness Awareness Week runs from Oct. 1- 7.

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The benefits of entrenching psychological health and safety in the workplace can no longer be dismissed. In healthcare settings, psychological health and safety is inherently linked to improved patient care. The healthcare sector has embraced the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace (the Standard) to great effect and is bringing the mental health conversation into workplaces across the country.

At Michael Garron Hospital, formerly Toronto East General, major changes are underway. Since the implementation of the Standard, the hospital has seen fewer days absent, decreased disability costs and improved patient engagement. These positive strides reflect the importance of nurturing the resilience and mental wellness of workers who are engaged in more stressful duties than the average employee.

The link to patient care is obvious at Groupe Roy Santé, which runs two long-term care facilities in the Montreal area. Most of their employees are patient attendants, providing care and services to residents. Since implementing the Standard, their one-year patient attendant retention rate has improved by 35 per cent and their short-term unplanned absence rate has improved by 41 per cent.

From traumatic emergency rooms to senior residences, healthcare workers in all settings are better able to give excellent care when their psychological health and wellness is supported.

Awareness

Workplaces play a central role in our lives. But the fulfillment we derive from our jobs must be weighed against the job stressors. For healthcare workers, the rewards are great, but too often in proportion with the toll exacted. Consider that healthcare workers are 1.5 times more likely to miss work due to an illness or disability than people in other sectors. Couple that with 40 per cent of nurses and physicians reporting advanced stages of burnout.

From compassion fatigue to sleep deprivation, factors affecting the psychological wellness of healthcare workers require unique attention. Perhaps that’s why it’s not surprising that the health sector made up almost half of the 40 organizations that participated in the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s (MHCC) Case Study Research Project to evaluate the effectiveness of the Standard.

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Accountability

Recognizing the challenges associated with healthcare sector work, and the imperative of creating healthy patient care settings, the MHCC partnered with HealthCareCAN – the national voice of healthcare organizations – to better define the chronic stressors within the industry. Two challenges specific to healthcare emerged: protection from moral distress and support for psychological self-care. Protection from moral distress entails creating a work environment where staff feel supported in doing their work in a way that is consistent with their personal and professional values.

Unhealthy healthcare settings are a lose-lose proposition: damaging to the wellness of healthcare workers and to the people in their care. From growing legal liabilities to the staggering burden of disability costs, the consequences of doing nothing on this issue are far too great.

Healthcare organizations have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to lead on psychological health at work. It’s time to replace stigma and stoicism in favour of disclosure and support.

Action

Psychological health at work isn’t just about having a yoga class once a week, any more than physical well-being stops with the provision of a first aid kit. Both physical wellness and psychological health must be integrated into policies and practices that inform an organization’s overall culture.

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Mental wellness at work is also a two-way street. Employees must do their part. They can learn new behaviours, stop harmful practices, and access support and care when needed. Healthcare workers across Canada are taking part in training programs like Mental Health First Aid and Understanding Stigma, an online course to help healthcare providers and frontline clinicians develop strategies to improve care for people with mental health and addiction problems.

It’s all part of creating an environment where healthcare workers aren’t afraid to speak up if they need support – an outcome that stands to benefit everyone.

Louise Bradley is President and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

You can find other stories like this at tgam.ca/workplaceaward

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