There is no question that mental health has become a prominent issue for discussion across news headlines, in scientific study and in the way we all manage our personal wellbeing.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), “Canada and the world are in the grips of a mental health crisis that threatens lives and hurts economies.”  While more recognition of mental health issues and the impacts they are having is a positive step, they can be a significant challenge for employees and their employers. 

With one in five Canadians experiencing a mental health problem every year and 50% of all Canadians experiencing mental health issues by the time they turn 40, this is not an issue that only affects a few unhappy workers.  Approximately 500,000 Canadians miss work each week due to mental health illness; 30% of all disability claims and 70% of disability costs are due to mental illness.  Combined, this costs the Canadian economy roughly $51 billion annually.  Challenging economic conditions such as those that Canada’s energy sector weathered for the past six years, are very closely related to declines in mental health amongst workers (and the public generally).

According to, a University of Calgary study found that “for every percentage rise in unemployment, researchers saw a 2.8% increase in suicides.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has only served to ratchet up the number of those who suffer from some form of mental illness ranging from anxiety and depression to stress and burnout.  In the past, these may have been symptoms that employees may have been expected to push through: “to grin and bear it”. 

Did you know?

In a recent survey by Deloitte, nearly one third of millennials and Gen Zs said they had taken time off work due to stress and anxiety since the start of the pandemic and for those that hadn’t taken time off, 40% said they were stressed all of the time but chose to “work through it”.

The Pandemic has had direct, negative impacts on the mental health of energy sector workers, particularly those who work rotational jobs in remote locations. In a survey of rotational employees who worked primarily on remote sites, including offshore energy installations, commissioned by the International SOS Foundation, 65% of respondents said that the pandemic had increased the demands of their job, 55% said they were working additional hours and 56% said their stress and anxiety levels had increased.  As well, 37% of respondents experienced significant loneliness and 23% said they were suffering emotional exhaustion. In the same study, a shocking 40% of all respondents indicated they had experienced suicidal thoughts some or all of the time while they were on rotation and 29% met the benchmark for clinical depression during the same period.

What Are Employers Doing About It?

Employers are increasingly recognizing that mental health issues have direct impacts on their employees and on their business success.  When up to 40% of your staff might be completely stressed out and almost one third have or might need to take time off to deal with mental health issues, productivity is bound to take a hit—to say nothing of those workers who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts while working long rotational shifts away from home and family.  The same Deloitte survey showed the top four non-financial business priorities were related to employee mental health and well-being. 

Clearly, many employers care but many employees don’t see those sentiments translating into tangible efforts to help ensure their mental well-being at the workplace and at home. 

Did you know?

The same Deloitte survey showed that 40% of respondents felt their employers had not done enough to support their mental health and the higher their stress level, the less support they felt they received from their employer.

Again, from Deloitte; real or not, this lack of perceived support for mental health may be a factor in explaining why just over a third of millennials and Gen Zs said that they had actually discussed their mental health concerns with their employers and why half of the employees who said they had taken mental health days during the pandemic gave other explanations to their work as to why they had taken time off.

In an interview, the HR director for a major Canadian oil and gas producer noted that mental health and stress and performance go hand in hand. “You can’t expect to get the best from your employees if they spend significant portions of their time at work managing all of the issues that they might be dealing with at home, at work, or with their kids or with aging parents or in their marriages, or with finances. Those all take time and focus away from the business of the employer.”

While these issues don’t all originate with the employer, many of the direct impacts are felt by the business so it’s incumbent that as an employer you develop ways to help your employees better manage their mental health.

The Vice President of Human Resources for a major energy infrastructure construction and management firm says, “the biggest single thing that we have done is to ensure that our leadership is aware that our employees’ physical and mental wellbeing is a corporate issue and not an individual issue. As a company, we can’t cure mental illness but we can encourage behaviours and give employees access to services and programs and adopt policies that help contribute to overall better physical and mental health. We also saw that many of our wellness programs and work policies weren’t being fully taken advantage of by our people. What we found was that when a new hire started, we would provide them a standard description of their pay and benefits package but we wouldn’t take the time to walk them through it and explain everything they could take advantage of from the office gym, flex and family care day options, remote work and working hour flexibility to a wide range of professional and personal counselling services. Our employees really appreciate that and the uptake rate in our benefits programs has certainly increased.”

What Can Your Company Do?

The good news is that employers and employees can act to improve the supports for mental wellness within their organizations.  A commitment to and actually developing a leadership culture that recognizes and accepts that mental health is impacting your business and your employees is a crucial first step.  Open and inclusive conversations with employees, your HR department, leadership, mental health specialists and employee support programs can help identify those areas that you can address with tangible initiatives to strengthen your workforce.

Energy Safety Canada has multiple links to information and other resources related to mental health on its website.  CAMH also has a mental health playbook for business leaders available online.

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