For over 20 years, The Better Workplace Conference has been on the leading edge of many innovative strategies to improve employee wellness. One core focus of this Conference, especially in recent years, has consistently been workplace mental health. At the Conference this fall, The Conference Board will share findings from the final report of the Healthy Brains at Work series.

This series has answered key questions on workplace mental health. The first report, The Footprint of Mental Health Conditions, set out to identify the prevalence of mental illness in the employed workforce. One major finding from the report was that the one-year prevalence of mental illness was highest in the 15-24 age group. It is alarming to consider that many young people today are facing mental health challenges. It is a challenge for Canadian workplaces and our economy, as young people, when considering their future career, will have the greatest economic impact over their lifetime compared with all other age groups that are currently in the workforce.

So, what are Canadian organizations doing about it? The second report, Healthy Brains at Work: Employer Sponsored Benefits and Programs, based on a survey of employers across Canada, looks at initiatives and strategies to address workplace mental health. The survey found that 39 percent of employers had implemented a mental health strategy. The report also features the stories of three employer-led initiatives which covered measuring employee health with a health metric scorecard, the implementation of a peer support program, and the development of leadership training for mental health.

How will employers know if their efforts are making a difference? The third report, Estimating the Impact of Workplace Mental Health Benefits and Programs, examined the cost to the Canadian economy if employees are working at either limited capacity or are not working at all because of the symptoms of depression and anxiety. The results indicate that if all people living with depression were fully functional at work, the Canadian economy would increase by $32.3 billion. Similarly, if all people living with anxiety were fully functional at work, the Canadian economy would increase by $17.3 billion.

While the focus on workplace mental health has come a long way in recent years, there is still much work to be done. Employers in Canada are not at the point where they can provide all the provisions needed for employees living with depression and anxiety to return full-time, and be fully functional while at work. But things are moving in the right direction. Louis Thériault, the Conference Board’s Vice-President of Industry Strategy and Public Policy, will discuss the Healthy Brains at Work research series in detail and will explore the latest research results from the upcoming publication Creating the Conditions for Healthy Brains in the Workplace. This fourth report in the series takes a closer look at mental health issues among Canada’s youth, and also examines how only modest improvements in workplace mental health can lead to big wins for both employers and the Canadian economy.