Mental health at work

According to a study commissioned by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), mental health problems and illnesses cost Canadian businesses more than $6 billion in lost productivity in 2011 (due to absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover). The impact of mental health problems and illnesses is especially felt in workplaces and among working-aged people. As noted in the MHCC study report:

  • People in their early and prime working years are among the hardest hit by mental health problems and illnesses.
  • About 21.4 per cent of the working population in Canada experience mental health problems and illnesses, which can affect their productivity.
  • Mental health problems and illnesses account for approximately 30 per cent of short- and long-term disability claims and are rated one of the top three drivers of such claims by more than 80 per cent of Canadian employers

Why study mental health at work?

As the MHCC points out, on the one hand, the workplace can be a stressful environment that contributes to mental health problems among workers; on the other hand, it can play an important role in maintaining the positive mental health of workers. Research can help paint a clearer picture of the prevalence of mental health problems among workers, the types of workplace factors that may contribute to poor mental health, and the workplace-based and system prevention efforts that can help improve mental health.

The Institute has published research that touches upon a number of issues related to mental health. This research is listed below:

Mental health issues, work injuries and return to work

There's strong evidence that work-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is effective in reducing lost time from work among workers who are away due to mental health conditions, while traditional CBT is not. In other words, generic CBT doesn't seem to improve return-to-work (RTW) outcomes, but CBT that addresses the specific difficulties workers face in returning to their jobs does. This is according to a systematic review conducted by, among others, IWH's Dr. Kim Cullen and Emma Irvin. 
A Work article (2017): Effective workplace return-to-work interventions are multi-faceted: IWH review

People who file workers’ compensation claims for psychological injuries are less likely to be offered modified work and less likely to go back to work than those who file claims for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). This is according to an Australian-based research project that includes on its team Dr. Peter Smith and Dr. Sheilah Hogg-Johnson, both senior scientists at the Institute for Work & Health.
A Work article (2016): Key differences found in return-to-work process for MSD and psychological claims

Depressive symptoms are common in the first year after people have been injured at work, and the first six months appear to be particularly important to an injured worker’s future mental health. This six-month period may be a window of opportunity to screen for symptoms of depression, and to provide the necessary support to those who need it, in order to prevent mental health problems in future. So concludes a study led by IWH's Nancy Carnide.

At Work article (2016): Depressive symptoms common in first 12 months after work injury

Depression and related symptoms are more common among workers with permanent impairments following a work-related injury than in the general population, according to a study by Dr. Fergal O'Hagan as part of the Research Action Alliance on the Consequences of Work Injury (whose scientific lead was IWH's Dr. Emile Tompa).
At Work article (2013): Mental health suffers among workers permanently impaired by job injury

Returning to work has a beneficial effect on mental health (as well as physical health), says a systematic review led by Dr. Sergio Rueda (with Dr. Cam Mustard on the committee reviewing the research).

Depression is related to increased duration of absences among nurses with musculoskeletal injuries—not directly, but through its impact on pain. That is, depression seems to affect pain levels, which seem to affect length of absence, according to research from Dr. Renee-Louise Franche.

Work by Dr. Renee Louise-Franche and Dr. Nancy Carnide showed that depressive symptoms are pervasive among workers disabled by musculoskeletal disorders. For those whose symptoms persist, sustainable work-returns are less likely, and treatment by a mental health professional may be needed to improve recovery.

Injured workers’ problems dealing with delayed and denied workers’ compensation claims are associated with mental health issues, as are failed attempts at returning to work or retraining, according to research by Dr. Ellen MacEachen on complex claims.

Worksite interventions and mental health

A systematic review by Dr. Andrea Furlan et al could recommend no successful interventions for managing depression in the workplace because studies to date in this field are of poor quality. However, the systematic review did show that randomized controlled trials are possible when studying workplace depression, which is important given that randomized controlled trials are the gold standard for reaching conclusions on the effectiveness of interventions.

Working conditions and mental health

Increases in psychological job demands (related to the pace and intensity of work) elevate the risk of depression among Canadian workers, more so than declines in job control (ability to make decisions and use skills at work), according to research from Dr. Peter Smith.

Many recent immigrants end up in jobs for which they are over-qualified, putting them at risk of poorer mental health within a relatively short period of time, according to research published by Cynthia Chen.

A limited number of associations between occupational groups and suicide risk was found in a study by Dr. Cam Mustard, suggesting that, with few exceptions, the characteristics of specific occupations do not substantially influence the risk for suicide. However, the researchers did find notable differences between men and women. Overall, the suicide rate for men was four times more than the rate for women, although rates for women were higher than for men in some occupational groups.

Health-care workers with heavy workloads have higher levels of both mental health and musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs), according to a study of British Columbia acute-care hospitals led by Dr. Donald Cole.

A quick scan of the research in 2009 by the Institute for Work & Health found clear evidence that becoming unemployed has a negative effect on mental health and that people with mental health problems are more likely than others to become unemployed.