TORONTO—Workers returning from mental health leave tend to relapse sooner than employees who were away because of a physical disability, according to a new survey by the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
The Toronto-based teaching hospital sampled more than 13,000 workers and found people who returned to their jobs after being absent for mental health reasons relapsed an average of two years sooner than those with a physical disability.
Relapses were most common among women, maintenance workers and people with disrupted marriages.
Understanding the timing of relapses and who is most at risk can help organizations develop prevention strategies, says Carolyn Dewa, study lead and head of CAMH’s Centre for Research on Employment and Workplace Health.
She notes that most relapses weren’t immediate—72 per cent were still at work within the first year of returning.
“These workers want to be back at work, but unfortunately, sometimes supports to help maintain their health are not available,” Dewa says.
Their major symptoms may have subsided, but slighter ones such as trouble concentrating may still be impacting their ability to do their job.
Dewa says that can create resentment among colleagues and make the problem worse because social support both at work and home is crucial to well being.
It’s tricky to offer these workers support without intruding too much or violating their privacy, but Dewa says it can be done.
“Occupational health staff can provide support or just check in with workers who have had a previous disability leave. People like it when you genuinely care about the answer to, ‘How are you?'”
And businesses have good reason to care—a recent survey from the Conference Board of Canada found mental health issues accounted for 78 per cent of all short-term disability leave during 2009 and 2010.
Despite the prevalence of mental health issues across Canadian workplaces, only 30 per cent of employees in the board’s survey said their company promotes a healthy environment.
Managers had their own concerns—44 per cent reported never receiving any training on how to manage employees with mental health issues.
The board makes several recommendations for organizations including:
- Using education and communication to reduce fear, stigma and discrimination
- Ensuring the organizational culture is conducive to worker well-being
- Encouraging senior executives to show leadership around mental health
- Providing managers with more tools and training so they can support employees