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workplace health

This is part of a series examining the mental health experience in Canada's workplaces.Take part in our short survey ( and add your voice to this important conversation. This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell's Employee Recommended Workplace Award, which honours companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Winners for 2017 will be announced at a conference in late spring. Sign up to receive an e-mail about registration for 2018 at

Only one in three Canadians who experience a mental health problem or illness seeks and receives services or treatment. The wrong time to prepare for a crisis is when you're in it. We need to better equip people to identify a mental health problem, and teach them when to ask for help and how to find it.


Experiencing a mental health problem doesn't have to be an isolating or intimidating experience. While it's normal to fear the unknown, it's important to reach out and speak to someone you trust. The stigma around mental health issues is lessening, and some workplaces are creating environments where people can discuss their mental health without fear of ridicule.

If you think you need support with your mental health, here are some steps you can take.


If you had a broken leg you could look at it forever, but without medical intervention it would never begin to heal correctly. Mental illness is like any other health concern. We all have a responsibility to be aware of our mental state and be mindful of changes in how we are thinking or feeling. The Working Mind course is a great way to gain mental health awareness. An educational workplace mental health and wellness program, the Working Mind is designed to help individuals identify poor mental health in themselves and others, while building mental resiliency. Ask your employer to consider offering a course for employees, and remind your manager that the earlier people get support for mental health issues, the lower the long-term risk.


The first step on the journey to seeking help for a mental health problem is often the hardest. However, there are a number of places to look for services and supports. The workplace is a great place to start.

Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) – If your employer offers this service, call the 800 number and a professional will direct you to the available services. EFAP is a confidential, solution-focused model to help solve a problem and get you back on track. EFAP can be accessed online, by telephone and in person, and your privacy is protected.

EFAP add-on programs – Some EFAP programs have extended services. For example, Morneau Shepell has added depression care, trauma assist, access to psychiatric services and in-inpatient treatment for addictions and more severe mental illnesses.

Benefits program – Your benefits program may cover psychological services. Your family doctor can refer you to a mental health professional. You can also ask a representative from your employee union or association, a trusted colleague, family member or friend for a recommendation.

Occupational health services – For the many Canadians without a family doctor, workplaces may offer a health services department or an occupational health doctor. He or she can manage occupational illness, promote optimal health and safety in the workplace, and facilitate workplace accommodations. Occupational health doctors and nurses have the same obligation as all health care professionals to maintain the confidentiality of client health information.

Formal peer support programs – Found in certain workplaces and in communities across Canada, peer supporters are not clinicians (such as psychologists, counsellors, or social workers). They are individuals who have lived the experience of a mental health problem or illness, and have specialized training to assist others navigating the system. In 2013, the Mental Health Commission of Canada released the Guidelines for the Practice and Training of Peer Support, to increase the capacity of peer support in Canada and strengthen existing initiatives.

Community mental health services – In most provinces and territories, your local health authority likely provides community mental health services for individuals experiencing a mental health problem or illness. Visit your health authority's website to find out more. You can also find the nearest Canadian Mental Health Association, located in more than 100 communities across Canada, and learn about CMHA's community-based resources.

Medical doctor – Your physician may not be an expert in mental health but they can prescribe medication and offer guidance to curb symptoms, as well as make referrals to a mental health professional.

Distress or crisis line – If you are in crisis, professionally trained distress line responders are there to answer your call 24/7. These crisis lines can often be accessed by telephone, online or via chat. They offer free, immediate, and confidential one-on-one assistance. The responders will listen to your concerns, offer advice, and, if required, will try to connect you with help in your community. Visit the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention's website to find the crisis or distress line in your community.

Mental health crisis response – If you are in crisis or having suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. Tell someone you trust and report your intentions to a 911 operator or go to your local hospital emergency department.

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

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

Add your voice and take part in our short mental health survey: (

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