Mental illness: the elephant in the office

by Jessica Guenard-Valiquette on May 4, 2010

April 29, 2010 | April Scott-Clarke

Published at

He was a top employee, someone who everyone counted on in the workplace—and then something changed.

His personal life started to overlap with work. He started to look scruffy and dishevelled; he began to share conspiracy theories about “the man” with his fellow employees. Then the complaints from fellow colleagues started. HR watched his every move, looking for evidence for dismissal. This escalated his behaviour, which ended in an incident that kept him out of the workplace for a year. Everyone watched his attitude and demeanour make an about-face, but nobody questioned it.

Mary Ann Baynton, director of Great-West Life’s Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, and Karen Liberman, executive director with the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario, said during their presentation on new directions in mental health at the Benefits & Pensions Summit, hosted by Benefits Canada and the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, when drastic changes like this happen, people should be questioning it. It’s often a sign of a mental illness, as it was in this case.

“Eighty to 90% of mental illnesses are treatable and not terminal unless we make them so,” said Liberman. “Time to treatment and access [to it] is critical.” Having been diagnosed with atypical treatment-resistant depression and struggling with it while at work, Liberman knows first-hand the importance of recognizing the symptoms and of addressing them early.

Baynton suggested that managers address employees if they see a difference and suggest that they see a physician because often, the illness itself stops people from recognizing that they have a problem.

Another important factor is when an employee returns to work from disability leave caused by a mental illness. “You have to think of the impact not just on the disabled employee but also on the managers and co-workers,” Baynton said. “You can’t disclose personal information, but you can’t ignore the big elephant in the room. Everyone is talking about the workplace situation anyway.”

She added that a need for a return-to-work system that is focused on solutions and not just on the problem is ideal. “If we can’t focus on a way forward, we will repeat what we have just done.”

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Pharmacy technician certification exam May 27, 2010 at 4:28 pm

What a great resource!

2 jim September 10, 2010 at 12:45 pm

this is awesome man

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