A new report from the Conference Board of Canada finds that depression and anxiety cost the Canadian workforce an estimated $50 billion a year in lost productivity, a result which researchers see as a wake-up call to employers who need to become more proactive in dealing with their employees’ mental health.
“A large proportion of working Canadians have unmet mental health care needs that prevent them from performing to their utmost, and our report shows this has serious consequences for the Canadian economy,” says Louis Thériault of the Conference Board of Canada, a not-for-profit economic think tank. “Improving treatment of mental illness among working Canadians would offer significant benefits for individuals, businesses, society and the economy.”
The report incorporates data from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey, a survey of mental health clinicians and information on Canadian insurance claims and finds that about 2.5 million employees depression costs the Canadian economy at least $32.3-billion a year and anxiety another $17.3 billion. For many, mental illness prevents them from working either full-time or part-time.
One in five adult Canadians (21.3 per cent) will suffer from a mental disorder during their lifetime, with the risk of mental illness in children now becoming an increasing problem. The report identifies the services sector as having the highest proportion of employees with mental health needs – about 2.5 million employees in total – and claims that through access to proper treatment and support up to 352,000 Canadians currently out of the workforce due to mental illness could return as fully functional employees.
Globally, the World Health Organization states that an estimated 350 million people suffer from depression, a number that has been rising over the years. Said to be the leading cause of disability worldwide, fewer than half of people with depression seek out treatment, even though proven effective treatment options involving both psychological and pharmacological therapies do exist. Experts cite a lack of resources and social stigma as common barriers to treatment for depression.
“There are studies that say 50 per cent of depression and anxiety patients don’t even seek help,” says Greg Sutherland, principle economist with the Conference Board in conversation with Global News. “It is partially that people may not know how to access the supports. And people may not even want to admit that they need the support.”
A recent study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto found that Ontario’s mental health providers are not meeting the growing demand for their services, with researchers stating that demographic trends in the psychiatry profession seem to be contributing to the problem. Dr. Paul Kurdyak, lead author of the study published in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, argues that meeting the increasing need for services will mean a change to the way health care providers operate. “We can’t maintain the status quo,” says Kurdyak, who offers that the industry needs to further integrate the services provided by primary care physicians, social workers and psychologists into the mental health sector. “I would like to see us as a group kind of roll up our sleeves and collectively collaborate on how we effectively distribute the finite resource that is us across province so that access to psychiatrists is as equitable as it possibly can be,” says Kurdyak.