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Perhaps you're reading this column over breakfast before you head off to work. Or maybe you've already put in a full day on the job and you're reading this as you wind down for the day.

In either case, you can count yourself extremely fortunate. You are one of the lucky ones. You feel well enough to go to work.

There are millions of Canadians who can't do what so many of us take for granted. Mental health problems or illness prevents them from going to work. They aren't able to provide for their families the way they had hoped. They aren't able to contribute to their workplaces the way they would like.

More than 500,000 Canadians miss work each day because of mental health problems or illness, making it the number one cause for short- and long-term disability. Currently, more than 30 per cent of disability claims and 70 per cent of disability costs are attributed to mental health problems or illness.

The total economic burden tied to mental health problems or illness in Canada adds up to approximately $51-billion per year. Nearly half of this amount — $20-billion — comes directly from workplace losses.

As we suffer, business suffers.

So how can Canada keep up with these escalating costs? How can employers go on functioning effectively without the contributions of some of our best minds and our hardest workers? How can we afford to do nothing?

We can't.

Canadians spend more waking hours at work than anywhere else. We have to think about mental wellbeing more in the same way we consider physical wellbeing.

That's why a year ago — on Jan. 16, 2013 — the Mental Health Commission of Canada launched the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace in partnership with CSA Group (CSA) and Bureau de normalisation du Québec (BNQ).

The first of its kind in the world, the Standard is a voluntary tool — not a legal framework or a regulation — to guide organizations across all sizes and sectors to improve workplace psychological health and safety.

The response from the business community over the past year has been tremendous.

More than 16,000 copies of the Standard have been downloaded by organizations in Canada and from other countries around the world. Dozens of organizations have begun implementing the Standard. Dozens more are actively planning to begin putting it into place. Hundreds of employees are already realizing benefits.

We are seeing increasing interest in the Standard and growing momentum. For example, with our partners at Great West Life, Lundbeck Canada, and organizations like Bell Canada, the Canadian Mental Health Association and Morneau Shepell are all at work developing tools and spreading the word through their own communications channels.

It's clear a growing number of businesses see that putting the Standard in place makes good sense. It allows them to maximize productivity, boost recruitment and retention efforts, and minimize costs tied to short- and long-term disability.

When organizations assessed themselves during the Standard's first year, they realized they were not starting at zero. They already had a lot in place. This is not a whole system, where you need to build policies and structures from scratch.

We've just announced a three-year case study research project, designed to help us learn more about how employers put the Standard into action. Beginning in February, it will follow more than 25 organizations across all sizes and sectors to track the impact the Standard has on the psychological health of work places and employees.

Other employers will then be able to learn from these case studies. They will see what has worked well and where there have been gaps. They will be able to borrow tools put in place elsewhere and individualize them to fit their own work places. We're convinced that this project will ultimately help Canada improve its approach to workplace mental health.

And we're hopeful that the project will be seen as a challenge to employers across the country: Where will you be in three years when it comes to mental health? How will you increase productivity in your workplace and increase your bottom line? What will you do to prevent the onset of mental health problems or illness and make the workplace healthier for your staff?

Louise Bradley is President and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Though her experience ranges from Community Mental Health to Forensic and Corrections Health Care, she has worked primarily in the Mental Health field as a frontline nurse, administrator, researcher and educator.

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