Workplace Absences Due to Mental Health Issues: An Update

The numbers are in from a new poll conducted in April that details Canadians' experiences with mental health issues and how they impacted their lives, especially at work. The main findings certainly do indicate that a large number of Canadians are dealing with mental illness and it is affecting their lives. The results include these staggering stats:

  • "40% of Canadians say their mental health disrupted their lives in the past year"(Chai, 2017).

  • "17% of Canadians say they’ve taken time off work and school to deal with a personal mental health issue" (Chai, 2017).

  • "8% say they’ve taken time away from their professional lives to help a family member or close friend grappling with mental illness"(Chai, 2017).

  • "23% said they’re taking medication to help with their mental health, from stress to depression" (Chai, 2017).

As the article in Global News describes, these are at once both positive and negative findings. They point out that a large proportion of Canadians are being affected by mental illness, but they are also recognizing the illness for what it is, and acknowledging that they do need to sometimes take time off work and care for their health (Chai, 2017). These positive outcomes include:

  • "42% of Canadians said they talked to someone about their mental health in the past year, up 7 percentage points from last year, and 11 points from two years ago" (Chai, 2017).

  • "23% said they talked to a primary health-care provider, such as their family doctor, while another 16% reached out to a counsellor, psychiatrist, or psychologist" (Chai, 2017).

  • "10% even wrote about or posted about their mental health woes online – millennials led the way with this openness with 24% sharing their mental health difficulties online in the past year" (Chai, 2017).

Stigma does still exist, but the growing culture of openness and understanding may be contributing to the rise in number of individuals seeking help and opening up about their mental health struggles.  Things such as mental health first aid training and having mental health policies in place at work, may have a great impact on the comfort level that an employee feels around disclosing their mental illness or need for time off/accommodations to an employer. In turn, this of course positively affects workplace productivity when money is not being lost to presenteeism (think $6 billion annually)

Another thing that helps is knowing your rights as an employee. Last week on their Facebook page the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) made it a point in their post to remind us of our rights, especially in the workplace. That is, individuals who have a mental illness are entitled to the same opportunities, benefits etc as a person without a mental illness who is in the workplace (OHRC, n.d.). 

Communicating your needs to an employer can be daunting, especially if you feel that you are putting your job at risk because you are entering uncertain territory. Even if you are feeling well supported and are not afraid to voice your needs to your employer, it's worth reading over the Human Rights Code, you may be able to help someone else out who feels like they are in a sticky situation, but may truly not be aware of their rights.  A quick read over the Ontario Human Rights Code will get you up to speed when it comes to mental health, addiction, and disabilities in the workplace.

Were you aware that mental health issues and addictions were protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code? What do you think of these new statistics around workplace mental health? Are they surprising? Are workplaces on the right track to supporting employees who have a mental illness?


Chai, C (2017). 500,000 Canadians miss work each week due to mental health concerns. Retrieved from

Ontario Human Rights Commission (n.d.). The Ontario Human Rights Code. Retrieved from

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