More than one in five Canadian employees has depression: survey

Lia Grainger
Shine OnOctober 9, 2012

More than one in five Canadians in the workplace say they are currently suffering from depression, reveals a new survey from Ipsos Reid. The national poll also found that 84 per cent of managers and supervisors feel the responsibility to intervene when an employee is showing signs of emotional distress.

The survey was commissioned and funded by the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, and is the second of its kind. The first survey addressing Canadian mental health in the workplace took place in 2007.

The results of the 2012 survey, based on 6,624 online questionnaires, reveal significant changes in the way depression is viewed in the workplace when compared to the 2007 numbers. They indicate a shift towards a wider acceptance and understanding that depression is a real illness that needs to be addressed.

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In 2007, only 18 per cent of managers or supervisors said they had received training to identify and help employees showing signs of depression, whereas today 31 per cent have been trained.

"In 2007, only one in five had received any training on how to intervene with emotionally distressed employees; now one third do. This speaks to increased awareness and availability of resources," says Mary Ann Baynton, the program director for the Centre, in a press release.

Interestingly enough, out of those two surveys from 2012 to 2007, there was a 4 per cent drop in the number of people who reported being diagnosed with depression.

"Mental health has always operated under a stigma," says Sagar Parikh, professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto.

Parikh says that while it is encouraging that more employers are learning about how to deal with mental illness in the workplace, there is still a lot to be done to get the issue out in the open.

"This shows that the efforts of the past decade have had some impact," says Parikh. "People are willing to talk about it."

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However, he cautions that one of the road blocks is the fact that mental illness is often invisible.

"No one blames a person for getting cancer," says Parikh.  "A person with mental illness will not have difficulty walking or breathing. It's not as easy and obvious to identify as a physical ailment, and yet talk to that person and you may find that they are suffering greatly."

The good news is that there are resources readily available for employees and employers who want to learn how to handle issues of depression in the workplace. Parikh points to Workplacestrategiesformentalhealth.com, a Canadian site that provides specific instructions regarding what to say and do when confronted with a person who may be depressed, whether you are an employee, supervisor, HR professional or union leader.

"The tools are there, " says Parikh. "It's just a matter of connecting those tools to the people who want and need them."

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