Approximately 500,000 Canadians are absent from work each day for psychiatric related reasons according to the 2006 Government of Canada report: The Human Face of Mental Health and Mental Illness in Canada.

“Mental health has a significant impact on the workplace not only from a health perspective of those employees who are dealing with mental health issues, but also from a bottom-line perspective for the employers,” says Dr. Marie-Hélène Pelletier, Director of Workplace Mental Health for Sun Life Financial, this year’s Ride Don’t Hide Provincial Presenting Sponsor.

Training Managers to Support Employees

One of the ways Sun Life supports employers is to provide evidence-based online interactive training for their managers to support team members who are dealing with mental health issues. This is important to help ensure that employees access intervention early, which research shows can be key to recovery.

According to a 2012 study of depression at work conducted by Ipsos Reid, only 33% of managers have had training in dealing with people with mental health problems. But 80% of managers see intervening as part of their job and 63% say that having training would help them.


Often a manager becomes aware of an employee with a mental health issue when performance is impacted. “That’s often how the conversation starts,” Marie- Hélène says. “Managers have the accountability for what they are in charge of at work; they manage performance and as part of that they oversee people at times who will be dealing with mental health or physical health issues.”

Marie-Hélène emphasizes that they are not asking managers to be counsellors, but rather their role is to provide employees with support and referral to workplace resources. So the role of the manager is not to ask such questions as, “What have you done so far? Have you had treatment? Are you taking medication? I know this great psychologist.” Rather, managers would be trained to ask ,”Do you have the resources you need?” and if the employee doesn’t, to say, “I’m going to help you find them.”

Often Marie-Hélène says a good place to refer employees is to the company’s employee assistance and family program (EAP or EAFP), if they have access to one.

Teen mental health resources

Sometimes people in the workplace, especially parents, experience challenges because their children are having difficulties and information is often difficult to access.To help address this national issue, Sun Life has sponsored a research chair in Adolescent Mental Health held by Dr. Stan Kutcher, an internationally-renowned expert in the area of adolescent mental health. Through the website, he has made available resources for parents and young people.

“My Story” Videos

To help open up conversations in the workplace and among families, Sun Life has provided access to videos of people sharing their personal experiences with mental health including TSN host Michael Landsberg, veteran hockey player Stéphane Richer and his wife, Leisa Guévremont and Carol and their daughter, Lindsay.

Marie-Hélène says that Ride Don’t Hide can lead to conversations about mental health and help people to access resources, gain information and encourage healthy actions. She adds, “I also think that each of us has a role to play in improving our own mental health and the mental health of those around us ­- whether, that’s a family member or a work colleague. For Canadians’ mental health to improve, everyone needs to be involved, and that’s why the collaborative way Sun Life approaches it is so critical to success.”

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