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Work-life balance, job insecurity key mental health factors in the workplace: study

Depression
Depression and anxiety is costing the Canadian economy billions. File/AP Photo

TORONTO – Job insecurity, conflicts in the workplace and difficulties balancing work and family life are key components of mental health issues in the workplace, according to a new extensive study of workers’ mental health in Canada.

Released Wednesday, the study is the largest ever in Canada to evaluate mental health risk factors in the workplace and is the first study to compare the results of behavioural questionnaires with physiological testing in the working population.

Researchers at the Université de Montréal, Concordia University and Université Laval interviewed more than 2,100 employees at over 60 companies about their personal and professional lives and focused on a series of factors that may lead to the development of psychological distress, depression and burnout.

Cortisol, commonly known as the “stress hormone,” levels were also measured in participants. The scientists found that psychological demands from work, conflicts in the workplace and job insecurity were key factors of mental health problems, while being a victim of abusive supervision was also a “major contributing factor to psychological distress, depression and burnout.”

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The study also found that top contributing factors for psychological distress included strained marital or parental relationships and difficulty managing work-life balance.

Pierre Durand of the Université de Montréal’s School of Industrial Relations said that the impacts of an individual’s personal and work-related problems on his or her mental health cannot be considered separately.

“The strength of this research is that it takes a large number of factors into account,” said Durand. “These include work organization, family and employment relationships and certain personality traits, such as self-esteem, as well as other potential risk factors, like chronic illness or alcohol misuse.”

According to a 2011 study that focused on the life and economic impact of major mental illnesses in Canada, approximately one in five employees suffers from a mental illness that potentially affects his or her  productivity at work.

Mental health issues in the Canadian workplace

The Mental Health Commission of Canada said that adults in their early and prime working years are among the hardest hit by mental health problems and illnesses.

A 2011/2012 “Pathway to health and productivity” survey from Towers Watson, an HR consulting and risk management firm, found that mental health problems and illnesses account for approximately 30 per cent of short-and long-term disability claims and that mental health problems and illnesses are rated one of the top three drivers of both short- and long-term disability claims by more than 80 per cent of Canadian employers.

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READ MORE: Canadian gov’t inaction on mental health hurts economy, families: report

In any given year, one in five Canadians—whether working or not—experiences a mental health problem or illness. The cost to the economy is in excess of $50 billion, a number where cumulative costs are expected to exceed $2.3 trillion over the next 30 years.

Effective stress management practices

While researchers of the study said a wide combination of factors from both work and personal life contribute to the overall development of an individual’s mental health, they state that a several factors can reduce the risk of mental health conditions. These include: living as a couple, reducing the number of regular hours worked on a weekly basis (including overtime) as well as facilitating employee participation in the decision-making process.