SUMMARY: Statistics and relevant research data support the business case for addressing workplace mental health.

Why mental health in the workplace matters

The Mental Health Commission of Canada provides the following definition of mental health, which can serve as a goal for employers: "Mental health is a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to her or his own community." (Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2012, Changing Directions, Changing Lives. The Mental Health Strategy for Canada Summary, 11.)

Most people spend approximately 60% of their waking hours at work (Black, 2008). With an understanding of the financial and human costs of workplace mental health, employers are better able to develop action plans for improving both employee well-being and the bottom line.

One U.S. (Employers’ Health Coalition) study  found that lost productivity from presenteeism was at least 7.5 times greater than productivity loss from absenteeism. Using this figure,  it is estimated that presenteeism could cost Canadian businesses 15 to 25 billion dollars per year. Presenteeism occurs when employees are physically present, but due to an unaddressed physical or emotional issue, distracted to the point of reduced productivity.

Many people face mental health issues during their prime working years

  • Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time, through a family member, friend or colleague (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2013).
  • According to a 2012 study, 5.2% of Canadians will experience a mood disorder over one year, with 4.8% of Canadians experiencing any anxiety disorder over the same time frame. Among those with a mood or anxiety disorder, 22% of those individuals will report at least 2 or more disorders in the same year (D'Arcy & Xiangfei, 2012).
  • A 2012 employee survey indicated that 12.65% of the participants reported exposure to a co-worker who used or was impaired by an illicit drug during the workday (Frone, 2012).
  • Mild depression, which is influenced by life stressors within and outside of the workplace, is particularly common and is costly to employers given its high prevalence and high aggregate productivity loss (Allen, Hyworon, Colombi, 2010).
  • The prevalence of reported depression appears to be rising. In a 2012 workplace survey of over 6,600 Canadian employees, 14% reported being currently diagnosed with clinical depression and 8% more believed they had depression, but had not been diagnosed. A further 16% reported that they had experienced depression in the past (Ipsos Reid, 2012). The survey did not ask about any other mental health issue.
  • 16% of working Canadians (excluding self-employed employees) say their place of work is a ‘frequent’ (11%) or an ‘ongoing’ (5%) source of feelings of depression, anxiety or other mental illness, according to an Ipsos Reid poll conducted on behalf of Partners for Mental Health (Ipsos Reid, 2013).
  • Nearly half (47%) of working Canadians ‘agree’ (15% strongly/32% somewhat) that their ‘work and place of work is the most stressful part of their day and life (Ipsos Reid, 2013).
  • More than one-quarter of Canadian employees perceive work-related stress to be high. While this rate has declined slightly since 2003 and 2005, there remains a substantial proportion of employees who are highly stressed most of their working days. Statistics Canada (years 2003, 2005, 2007/08, 2009/10, 2011/12)

Mental and physical health are related

  • Respondents aged 18 to 65 with one or more chronic health conditions were significantly more likely to report having experienced a major depressive episode than those who did not report chronic health conditions (Wang, Williams, Lavorato, Schmitz, et al., 2010).
  • About 50% of hospitalized heart patients have some depressive symptoms, and 25% develop major depression (Miller, 2006).
  • Patients with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to experience depression than their peers without diabetes (Anderson, Freedland, Clouse, & Lustman, 2001).
  • Rates of depression, self-reported medication abuse, an inability to concentrate, or having sleeping problems were higher among injured employees compared to the general working Canadian population (O'Hagan, Ballantyne, & Vienneau, 2012).
  • Presence of an anxiety disorder is associated with having chronic physical illness, poor quality of life and suicidal behaviours. Mental disorders, especially depressive and anxiety disorders, are prevalent in the labour force (Sareen, et al., 2005; Sareen, et al., 2006)

Early identification and treatment can be important to productivity and recovery

  • Mental health management programs in the workplace can have a positive return on investment from the employer perspective, but only when they are based on best practices (Kessler, Merikangas & Wang, 2008).
  • 85% of respondents agree that employees with mental health conditions can be just as productive as other employees if they have access to the right supports (Ipsos Reid, 2012).
  • Most mental illness begins before adulthood and often continues through life. Improving mental health early in life will reduce inequalities, improve physical health, reduce health-risk behaviour and increase life expectancy, economic productivity, social functioning and quality of life (Royal College of Psychiatrists, London 2010).
  • In a supportive work environment, depression does not necessarily have to lead to disability. A recent review by McIntyre, Liauw and Taylor (2012) indicates that 50% or more of working individuals with depression will not seek short-term disability leave at any point of their work life.

Reasonable accommodation of mental health issues at work makes good business sense

  • The costs for providing reasonable mental health-related accommodations are often fairly low, with most costs well under $500 per person per year (Office of Disability Employment Policy, 2013).
  • If individuals with a mental illness are able to receive treatment early, disability leave, which costs companies $18,000 on average per leave, may be avoided (Dewa, Chau, & Dermer, 2010).

Stigma may be a barrier to productivity and effective treatment

  • Employers are perceived to be less accommodating of employees experiencing mental health-related issues compared to employees with physical health-related issues (Ipsos Reid, 2012).
  • 83% of employees believe that they have a responsibility to self-identify if they have a mental illness, but 31% felt that their direct supervisor would not be understanding or supportive if they did so (Ipsos Reid, 2012).
  • Stigma within the community, in the workplace, among healthcare and vocational rehabilitation workers, and internalized stigma have been cited to cause a 70% misdiagnosis rate in bipolar disorder (Fajutrao, Locklear, Priaulx, & Heyes, 2009).
  • Experiences of discrimination and expectations for further discrimination were the most significant factor preventing employees from reporting or disclosing a mental illness to people in their workplace (Brohan, Henderson, Wheat et al., 2012).
  • 57% of respondents to a Bell survey believed that the stigma associated with mental illness has been reduced as compared to the previous 5 years. 81% were more aware of mental health issues compared to the previous 5 years. 70% believed attitudes about mental health issues had changed for the better compared to the previous 5 years prior (Bell 2015).
  • There still appears, however, to be a lingering stigma against mental illness in the workplace. In fact, just 1 in 3 (35%) would be ‘likely’ (9% very/26% somewhat) to have an open discussion with their boss about their mental health or illness. 2 in 3 (65%) would not be likely (33% not at all/32% not very) to have an open discussion with their boss about their mental illness (Ipsos Reid, 2013).

Management approaches can impact mental health

  • 4 in 5 managers/supervisors believe it is part of their job to intervene with an employee who is showing signs of depression (Ipsos Reid, 2012).
  • Only 1 in 3 managers/supervisors reported having training to intervene with employees who are showing signs of depression, but 55% of managers/supervisors reported having intervened (Ipsos Reid, 2012).
  • 65% of managers/supervisors say they could do their job more effectively if they found ways to more easily manage distressed employees (Ipos Reid, 2012).
  • 63% of managers/supervisors would like to receive better training to deal with this type of situation and 43% would like to receive more support from senior management and Human Resources (Ipsos Reid, 2012).
  • Costs associated with mental illness (in terms of absenteeism, productivity, indemnities and healthcare) were estimated at $51 billion in Canada in 2003 (Lim, Jacobs, Ohinmaa, Schopflocher, & Dewa, 2008).
  • Burnout is prevalent in advanced market economies, and recent economic downturns have created conditions that increase the likelihood of burnout within organizations (Brown and Quick, 2013).

See Considering the Costs for statistics and research related to psychological health and safety.

Additional Resources

The following are links to resources that may be of interest to you. If you click on a link you may be entering a third party website not maintained or controlled in any way by us or our affiliated companies. For more information, see Legal and Copyright.

The Wellness Dividend: How Employers Can Improve Employee Health & Productivity
Report by Graham Lowe, Ph.D. provides employers and benefits consultants with a state-of-the-art, evidence-based overview of why investing in employee wellness makes sense. Also provided are practical insights. Information courtesy of the Graham Lowe Group.

See the Understanding Mental Health Issues – Facts and Figures bibliography for complete citations for the studies and research cited here.


Included below are full citations for the research and studies that have been cited in the Mental Heath Issues Facts and Figures.

See selected statistics and findings at Mental Health Issues - Facts and Figures.

Allen, H., Hyworon, Z., & Colombi, A. (2010). Using Self-Reports of Symptom Severity to Measure and Manage Workplace Depression. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 363-374.

Alzheimer Society Canada (2012). A new way of looking at the impact of dementia in Canada.

Anderson, R. J., Freedland, K. E., Clouse, R. E., & Lustman, P. J. (2001). The prevalence of Comorbid Depression in Adults With Diabetes: A meta-analysis. Diabetes Care, 1069-1078.

Bell Let’s Talk: The first 5 years (2010-2015).

Black, C. (2008). Working for a Healthier Tommorow: Dame Carol Black's Review of the Health of Britain's Working Age Population: Presented to the Secretary of State for Health and the Secretary of State for Work Pensions. London: TSO.

Brohan, E., Henderson, C., Wheat, K., Malcolm, E., Clement, S., Barley, E. A., . . . Thornicroft, G. (2012). Systematic review of beliefs, behaviours and influencing factors associated with disclosure of a mental health problem in the workplace. BMC Psychiatry, 1-14.

Brown, L.S., Quick, J.C. (2013). Environmental Influences on Individual Burnout and a Preventive Approach for Organizations. Journal of Applied Biobehavioral Research, 2013, 18, 2, pp. 104–121.

Canadian Community Health Survey, Public Use Microdata File, Statistics Canada (years 2003, 2005, 2007/08, 2009/10, 2011/12).

Canadian Mental Health Association. (2013). Fast Facts about Mental Illness. Retrieved from Canadian Mental Health Association:

Cordes, C. L., & Dougherty, T. W. (1993). A Review and an Integration of Research on Job Burnout. The Academy of Management Review, 621-656.

D'Arcy, C., & Xiangfei, M. (2012). Common and unique risk factors and comorbidity for 12-month mood and anxiety disorders among Canadians. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. Revue Canadienne de Psychiatrie, 479-487.

Dewa, C. S., Chau, N., & Dermer, S. (2010). Examining the Comparative Incidence and Costs of Physical and Mental Health-Related Disabilities in an Employed Population. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 758-762.

Employers’ Health Coalition, Inc. The Changing Face of U.S. Health Care.Tampa, Fla: Employers’ Health Coalition Inc; 1999.

Fajutrao, L., Locklear, J., Priaulx, J., & Heyes, A. (2009). A systematic review of the evidence of the burden of bipolar disorder in Europe. Clinical Practice and Epidemiology in Mental Health, 1-8.

Frone, M. R. (2012). Workplace substance use climate: prevalence and distribution in the U.S. workforce. Journal of Substance Use, 72-83.

Ipsos Reid. (2012). Depression at Work.

Ipsos Reid. (2012). Emotional Intelligence at Work.

Ipsos Reid. (2013). Partners for Mental Health and article: Two in Ten (16%) Working Canadians Say Their Place of Work is Frequently the Source of Feelings of Depression, Anxiety or Other Mental Illness.

Kessler, R. C., Merikangas, K. R., & Wang, P. S. (2008). The Prevalence and Correlates of Workplace Depression in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 381-390.

Lim, K. L., Jacobs, P., Ohinmaa, A., Schopflocher, D., & Dewa, C. S. (2008). A new population-based measure of the economic burden of mental illness in Canada. Chronic Diseases in Canada, 92-98.

Mcintyre, R. S., Liauw, S., & Taylor, V. H. (2011). Depression in the workforce: the intermediary effect of medical comorbidity. Journal of Affective Disorders, S29-S36.

Mental Health Commision of Canada. (2012). Changing Direcitons, Changing Lives: The Mental Health Strategy for Canada. Calgary, AB: Mental Health Commision of Canada.

Miller, M. C. (2006). Mind and Mood After a Heart Attack. Harvard Mental Health Letter, 1.

Office of Disability Employment Policy. (2013). Workplace Accommodations: Low Cost, High Impact. 1-8.

O'Hagan, F. T., Ballantyne, P. J., & Vienneau, P. (2012). Mental Health Status of Ontario Injured Workers With Permanent. Canadian Journal of Public health, 303-308.

Royal College of Psychiatrists. (October 2010), No health without mental public health: the case for action, 7-10.

Sareen, J., Cox, B. J., Afifi, T. O., de Graaf, R., Asmundson, G. J., ten Have, M., & Stein, M. B. (2005). Anxiety Disorders and Risk for Suicidal Ideation. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 1249-1257.

Sareen, J., Jacobi, F., Cox, B. J., Belik, S.-L., Clara, I., & Stein, M. B. (2006). Disability and Poor Quality of Life Associated With Comorbid Anxiety Disorders and Physical Conditions. Arch Intern Med, 2109-2116.

Statistics Canada. (2011). Table 102-0551 - Deaths and mortality rate, by selected grouped causes, age group and sex, Canada, annual, CANSIM (database). Retrieved from statcan:

Wang, J., Williams, J., Lavorato, D., Schmitz, N., Dewa, C., & Patten, S. B. (2010). The incidence of major depression in Canada: The National Population Health Survey . Journal of Affective Disorders, 158-163.

World Health Organization (2012). World Alzheimer Report 2012, Dementia: A public health priority.