woman finds balance at work and improves mental health

How to Address Mental Health Issues at Work – And Make Success Happen


In a perfect world, anyone with depression would be able to talk openly about it at work.

Well, okay, in a perfect world, nobody would have to deal with depression.

Ideally in this world, those with depression could speak with their employer about their struggles without fearing how it would be received. While society has made strides as to how mental health is addressed, we’ve still got a long way to go.

One such area of concern is mental health in the workplace. Whether it’s depression, anxiety or other issues that employees have as conditions with which they struggled (and/or coped) prior to starting work, or situations at work that trigger reactions, we still lack the ideal ease with which an employee ought to be able to discuss their mental health.

If you’re suffering anxiety or depression in Ottawa and struggling through these issues at work, you’re not alone. Read on to find out how you can find ways to get by and get ahead in spite of (or even because of) it. Or, if someone you work with is struggling with mental health issues and not coping well in the workplace, this will give you some guidance on how best to help.

Awareness Is Up, But This Doesn’t Always Translate to Tolerance

You’ve seen the campaigns. You’ve heard the encouraging words. You’ve been told that depression is nothing to be ashamed of, that we should all be receptive and encouraging to those who deal with this condition.

That… is all great. But is it always practiced?

shutterstock_658068004Are all managers going to react favourably when finding out that an employee or candidate has depression? Can everyone with depression in this ‘enlightened’ day and age freely talk to their boss about their struggle? Will employers and co-workers, often armed with the best intentions (but maybe little else of help), always be able to provide accommodations and tools?

We know that the answer is, unfortunately, “no.”

Knowing this and accepting it on many levels as “the way things are” is an important step on your journey to a good life. While we can all do our part to help “change the world,” serenity and sanity require us to know that we can’t change it all at once.

So what do we do now?

The Best Steps to Take (Now and Going Forward) to Manage Depression at Work

Let’s look at this from two perspectives: Employees and Employers.

First off for employees, those with depression, anxiety or other disorders who struggle at work: know that you’ve got options, that there are things you can do right now to take a step in the right direction.

1. Recognize that you have a disorder

That’s what depression is. Anxiety, too. And while it can’t literally be seen by others, it’s there, and it will be for the rest of your life. If you’ve already come to terms with this, you’re on your way. If this is new to you, please know that you’re not alone, you’re not crazy, and you’ve got ample resources available to you. What signs are important to look for?

  • You’re tired a lot, seemingly all the time
  • Dealing with people (especially coworkers or management) takes a lot of effort
  • You find yourself withdrawing from people, closing the door to your office or retreating to the bathroom (where you might find yourself crying, maybe for no apparent reason, again)
  • It takes you longer to complete tasks that used to seem simple
  • People notice that you seem “withdrawn” and “out of it”
  • You call in sick, even though you’re not physically ill (or maybe you are, but is this a cause or a symptom of the depression?)

What to do, once you’ve recognized the signs?


2. Seek Treatment

You don’t have to suffer in silence. If you had a physical illness, you’d seek medical treatment, right? You’d go to the doctor. The same goes for mental health as it does for physical. Mental health is certainly treatable. We’re not using the word “cure” here, please note, since that’s not the objective; rather we’re talking about treating your issues so that you can live with the condition and succeed in life, and in particular at work.

But how much will it cost? Where do you go first? And who might find out? Your employer may offer benefits such as an employee assistance plan (EAP) and/or an allowance for counselling. These services are anonymous; you needn’t worry about privacy.

3. Set Realistic Goals, Find Systems & Processes that Work for You

There’s no one-size-fits-all formula. That’s both bad news and good. You won’t find a a ready-made (“plug and play”) solution; treatment and coping skills are an ongoing process, something that’s unique to each person. You have to find what’s right for you, what works in your unique situation and helps you get better. On the other hand, you don’t have to feel like anything is being imposed on you. The key is to know what you’re capable of, and strive for a little bit more each day (or week or month). Don’t overwhelm yourself with expectations. When it comes to work specifics, many people have found success by building systems and strategies that support their mental health issues and accommodate what works best for them. This may or may not involve talking to your employer (see #4 below). Lists are good. Establishing priorities and realistic timelines is important. Assess things as you go along, and stay flexible in finding new and different ways to make your life better.

shutterstock_6878605574. Find Support (While Exercising Caution)

Do you have any coworkers whom you trust? Trust enough to disclose your illness? If you do, when the time is right, you might want to have a conversation with them. Let him or her know about your illness, tell them what you’re struggling with and how they can help you. They might be able to give you guidance about if and how to tell your employer. While telling a coworker can be more like talking to a friend, disclosure to your employer is, as you can imagine, something that is not without risk. On the one hand, they might be open and accepting of your illness, and willing to make accommodations (legally they are supposed to). If so, this could make your work life go much better. There is always the chance, however, that this illness could be received with trepidation, leading to stigma and discrimination. If you feel that your employer might not be open-minded enough, you might want to put off or avoid disclosure.

Are you a manager, supervisor, or co-worker of somebody who has a mental health issue?

Odds are pretty high that you are.

  • Around one in five Canadian adults experiences a mental health problem or illness
  • Mental health and illness typically account for around one-third of disability claims (these accounted for nearly half of such claims in the Canadian civil service in 2010)
  • Mental health issues account for more than $6 billion in lost productivity costs

Mental health is a legitimate issue, both for employees and for employers. Not addressing these issues can cost your organization large sums of money, in the form of decreased productivity, losing good employees… even in legal matters.

If an employee discloses that he or she has a mental health problem or illness, what should you do?

  • Listen (this might be the biggest one) – simply hearing what this person has to say will be (a) helpful for them to voice out, and (b) helpful for you to hear so that you know how you can be of help to them)
  • Make reasonable accommodations as per discussions with the employee (it’s the law)
  • Continue to include your co-worker in the workplace’s usual activities
  • When a co-worker returns to work after time off due to a mental illness, make them feel welcome and appreciated
  • Be an advocate for healthy workplaces, including awareness of and accommodation for mental health issues

shutterstock_388781149Remember, an employee with a mental health issue is, at the end of the day, no different than someone with a physical disorder. They are legally entitled to (and deserve) reasonable accommodations. And you’ll find that your patience and understanding with these employees will pay off, as you see their productivity increase along with the overall morale of your department or organization.

Treatment of Workplace Mental Health Issues in Ottawa

Whether you’re struggling with a mental health issue in an Ottawa workplace, or you’re an Ottawa employer or co-worker who knows someone in the workplace who is struggling, we can help.

When you’re ready to treat your depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorder, reach out to Capital Choice Counselling for therapy in Ottawa.

If you know someone in your workplace who needs help, feel free to ask us beforehand how best to help them seek the right treatment. We welcome referrals, and would also be glad to speak with you about how to support your colleague in the workplace.