Mental health goes to work
Program aims to help employees in need
Kelly Roche, QMI Agency
Susan Jakobson thought she’d dodged depression.
She had made it to her 50s without being affected, even though it runs in her family, “starting with my grandmother, my mother, sister, her daughter, and even my own daughter.”
But three years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 53.
Then the depression set in.
Jakobson, from the GTA, has worked in nursing and human resources for more than 30 years.
After five months off to deal with the cancer, her niece took her own life.
“I hit a wall,” Jakobson said. Dealing with the grief of multiple losses, she returned to work.
She said a senior manager didn’t realize the extent of her grief, which only made the problem worse.
She was eventually moved to a different department.
To help people like Jakobson, the Mental Health Commission of Canada is creating a new standard of psychological health and safety in the workplace.
Mental health issues are the leading cause of workplace disability in the country.
“The economic burden of mental disorders in Canada has been estimated at $51 billion per year, with almost $20 billion of that coming from workplace losses,” said commission president Louise Bradley.
The standard is voluntary and aims to help workers and employers.
Jakobson said it creates a framework for organizations to examine their practices and evaluate the emotional intelligence of management.
“Many people at work do have an underlying illness, and we don’t want work making it worse by the way that people are treated,” she said.
It’s familiar terrain for Jakobson, a former director of health, safety and wellness at the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board.
She now owns a consulting business, Healthy Minds at Work, and helps develop positive workplace programs and strategies.
As for the standard, a 60-day public review process will take place fall 2011.
“It’s the first step forward in what's going to be a very successful program,” said Michael Kirby, chairman of the mental health commission.
The standard is slated for completion summer 2012.