Scott Wallace PhD
Feb 8 · 6 min read

Highlights from our Avail Science Report available here.

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The cost of ignoring mental illness in the workplace is quickly becoming both staggering and prohibitive for employees and the organizations they work for.

Workplaces play a key part of maintaining positive mental health and well-being. They give people the opportunity to feel productive, purposeful, and connected to others in a common pursuit. Yet no workplace is immune to the stressors and challenges that can contribute to mental health problems and illnesses and deplete a person’s psychological resources and resilience.

With most adults spending more of their waking hours at work than anywhere else, understanding how mental illness affects these individuals, and the business costs that are incurred, is essential to planning proactive workplace mental health programs, tools, information, and support.

“Mental health is not binary in that people either have issues or not; it lies along a continuum and can change depending on the challenges we face…It’s critical that employers consider the mental health of the entire workforce and develop a strategy that addresses all levels of mental health programming, including preventative measures to keep employees healthy, early intervention to navigate through challenges, and supportive policies to aid in effective transition back into the workplace.” — Bill Howatt, PhD, Chief Research and Development Officer, Workforce Productivity, Morneau Shepell.


The Mental Health Commission of Canada reports that in any given year, one in five working Canadians experiences a mental health problem or illness. With a population approaching 37 million, this figure equates to approximately 7.4 million people — a staggering statistic when recognized as equivalent to the total number of people in Canada’s two most populous cities, Toronto and Montreal, combined.

The total cost from these mental health problems and illnesses to the Canadian economy is considerably significant, being estimated at approximately $50 billion per year, which represents 2.8% of Canada’s 2011 gross domestic product. The majority of these costs stem from healthcare and social support services, but Canadian business suffers enormously as well, losing at least $6 billion dollars annually to lost productivity from absenteeism, presenteeism, and turnover.

In newly published research, Morneau Shepell, a leading provider of employee and family assistance programs in Canada, and The Globe and Mail partnered in a survey of 1575 Canadian employees run over a six-month period from early 2017 to August 2017.

The survey reported on the workplace experience of an average professional Canadian employee with a mental health problem or mental illness. The survey results were subsequently shared with the Mental Health Commission of Canada out of which came the collaborative white paper Understanding Mental Health, Mental Illness, and Their Impacts in the Workplace.

Understanding Mental Health, Mental Illness, and Their Impacts in the Workplace revealed a number of important statistics, the most important of which are summarized below.

Key Findings

  • Canadian employees report workplace stress as a top cause of mental health problems or illnesses (34%) with depression and anxiety as the other top issues (at 37% and 32%, respectively).
  • Close to three-quarters (70%) of respondents stated that their work experience impacted their mental health.
  • Seventy-two percent of employees surveyed reported they believed their mental health problem had or would negatively impact their careers.
  • Mental health problems and illnesses were a primary reason for missing work, with 78% of respondents reporting they missed work due to mental health concerns. Of those missing work, 34% reported missing work for two or more months.
  • 75% of respondents reported that to their knowledge their workplace did not have an overall workplace mental health strategy.
  • Almost half of respondents indicated that they have good coping skills for dealing with mental health challenges, citing family support and professional treatment as examples.
  • For those respondents who reported that they use professional treatment, 50% reported using talking therapies (e.g. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and 53% relied on medication prescribed by a primary care physician and/or psychiatrist.
  • 90% of respondents reported there were no attendance policies that addressed mental health (e.g., effective disability management and safe return-to-work programs).

Costs to the economy

The economic burden of mental illness in Canada is estimated at $51 billion per year or nearly 1400 dollars for each person living in Canada in 2016 — a figure equivalent to 2.8% of Canada’s Gross Domestic Product. This includes health care costs, lost productivity, and reductions in health-related quality of life.

In the next decade, the annual cost of mental illness is predicted to rise to $88.8 billion and the cumulative cost over the same period will be $623.3 billion. By 2041, these annual costs are expected to be $307 billion. And in the next 30 years? The potential costs could exceed $2.53 trillion.

Notably, these costs are an underestimate of actual costs because several factors that could affect these costs are not assessed in most studies, including:

-The impact on health-related quality of life;

-Police and criminal justice system costs incurred because people with mental health problems and illness are not getting timely or appropriate mental health services;

-Costs incurred by families caring for a family member with a serious mental illness; And,

-Indirect costs such as reduced income and taxation associated with diminished career options arising from leaving school or work prematurely.

Costs to employers

Mental illness affects the workplace by increasing costs of sick time, short- and long-term disability and workers’ compensation claims. It also affects productivity through presenteeism — when people come to work but are not productive — and lost opportunity due to downtime.

One in three disability claims in Canada is related to mental illness and these claims represent approximately 70% of the total cost of disability claims.

Compromised psychological health has a range of other negative effects, including compromised safety (most jobs require employees to have good concentration, social skills and the ability to solve problems effectively) and increased workplace grievances and complaints.

According to research by Dr. Carolyn Dewa, Applied Public Health Chair of the Canadian Institute of Health Research and the Institute of Population and Public Health, mental illness is associated with more lost work days in Canada than any other chronic condition and costs nearly $18 billion in lost productivity each year.

Call to Action

Mental health issues in the workplace are among the top concerns for Canadian organizations of all sizes and types. Employers and the employees who work for them are beginning to recognize that good mental health is key to personal and business success, and that to effectively reduce the negative impact of poor mental health requires awareness, intention, planning, action, and commitment. This Avail research report offers baseline metrics against which employers can establish a business case for investing in good mental health and a call for action.

We advise that employers shift how they support mental health by broadening their concept of workplace mental health and act proactively rather than reactively. This means paying increased attention to early identification and modification of workplace stressors, and providing support and resources that strengthen employee psychological resilience and well-being, including preventative measures to keep employees resilient, and providing opportunities for early awareness and early intervention.

Note: References are presented in the original report.

We are happy to share the Science Report The Impact of Mental Health Problems On The Canadian Workplace, available here.

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Ready To Help Your Employees Excel and Thrive?

Avail is a Software-as-a-Service (Saas) based holistic well-being solution for organizations and their employees. Avail’s proactive, mobile-first, anytime platform uses clinical and behavioural data-driven insights to provide employees with personalized well-being profiles that are increasingly refined to reflect changes in well-being as circumstances change. Each profile aims to equip employees with insight and actionable skills to achieve optimal mental well-being, strengthened resilience and a mindset that promotes high engagement and performance.

For employees with untreated mental health problems or who want to improve their mental wellbeing without stigma or privacy concerns, Avail’s Care Navigator recommends options ranging from psychoeducational content (e.g. articles, videos) to professional care from our national provider network. Care resources can be augmented with any care options your organization provides. For administrators, Avail’s aggregate analytics and insights track your organization’s care service utilization and identifies trends in the mental health and well-being of your workforce.

Visit us at and book a demo.


Avail works with you to observe changes in your mood, energy, stress, sleep quality and more, and then suggests personalized action plans and support resources to help you improve your well-being and be your best you.

Scott Wallace PhD

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Avail works with you to observe changes in your mood, energy, stress, sleep quality and more, and then suggests personalized action plans and support resources to help you improve your well-being and be your best you.

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