by Tina Olivero


    The Cost of Mental Illness

    Unhealthy employees continue to cost employers billions of dollars each year. The Conference Board of Canada (Conferenceboard.ca) recently estimated that “absenteeism now costs the Canadian economy almost $17 billion a year.” Mental Wellness is proportionate to productivity – it’s just that simple.

    The most common mental conditions afflicting the workers of Canada include depression, dysthymia, bipolar disorder, social phobia, panic disorder, and agoraphobia, among others. These disorders alone cost Canada more than $20 billion in 2012.

    Conference Board research also shows that “a depressive episode is one of the strongest risk factors for workplace ‘presenteeism’ – being present but not engaged or productive.” That has a direct impact on performance, safety, and ultimate results.

    The Highest ROI Is Workplace Wellness

    That’s not necessarily bad news for proactive business leaders when you consider that the best return on your investment is money spent on employee WELLNESS! Think about it, if you have people who are not mentally well showing up for work, there are going to be issues related to people getting along, people taking responsibility for outcomes, accountability, projects coming in on time, staying on budget, safety, and it will be anything but a culture that is fundamentally free flowing and contributing. However, if you architect a culture of well being, your company can skyrocket. Thankfully, it’s now “in vogue” to have a healthy workforce.

    Not only do people need to be well physically, but it’s never been more apparent that people need to be well mentally too. With mind wellness as a priority, companies are taking steps to build effective mental wellness in their day-to-day operations. We are seeing mental health management programs, and other avenues for overcoming depression used in the workplace with positive results. These program can also be used to address addiction and substance abuse issues, which are sometimes a root cause rather than the outward symptoms. That’s huge!

    Imagine working in a company where people can not only speak freely about their challenges but also have them addressed and rectified as a part of their work life goals and outcomes. Companies with this type of culture will attract and retain employees. It’s a sustainable business model.

    Elizabeth Anderson

    Elizabeth Anderson, of Alberta, Canada, is one person delivering the message of mental wellness in the workplace. Since 1995, she has impacted more than 1000 audiences with the story of her journey from illness to recovery and onto a powerful work life that truly makes a difference.

    Elizabeth knows that being mentally healthy in spite of a mental illness is a journey – a journey she is eager to share with those searching for a new paradigm for mental illness. She’s written a book, Being Mentally Healthy : (In Spite of Mental Illness) in which she offers the following seven things you must know about being mentally healthy:

    Timely intervention – Often there is a lack of insight because the part of the brain that would make a person aware that they are sick – is broken. If I don’t think I am sick, I am not going to go to the doctor to get treatment. I was in this frame of mind before Deanna (my best friend) and Wade (my husband) intervened. I did not realise I needed help until after I was admitted to the hospital. I am well because I had help accessing medical services.

    The right diagnosis and medication if needed – Medication is essential to correcting the imbalances in the brain. There should be no shame in taking medication for a mental illness. Why is it any different than taking an aspirin for a headache or insulin for diabetes? The brain needs a corrective measure and the medication provides the correction – it is medication for an imbalance.

    Supportive people – Supportive people including my boss, my mom, my siblings, my phone support team, and Wade. They have been essential to my wellness. In addition, I have had supportive people, such as Fay, appear at just the right time in my life. Fay appeared after my diagnosis when I was searching for a purpose to my life. She inspired me to help in the fight to end the stigma of mental illness by joining the Partnership Program at the Schizophrenia Society Supportive people, especially loved ones.

    A reason to be well – Some days, I just don’t have the strength physically or emotionally to get or keep going. Some days the illness wins, and I have learned to just try again the next day and not get upset with myself. Wade, my husband, is my reason to be well. He reminds me that my efforts have positive effects on our life, which helps me want to be well so I can be an equal partner.

    A reason to hope – God has been there through it all; He is the reason I have hope. I have used what I have been through as my purpose in life. I want to educate people about mental illness and, perhaps, help people be closer to God. When I talk about my faith, I just say, “I have shopped around and I have found Jesus is the best deal.” I have been cautioned not to mention God in my story, but if this is my recipe for success, I can’t leave out the baking powder that makes the rest of the ingredients work together. I had to do what I could and leave the rest up to God. I also know your beliefs are your business. Everyone has to figure out spiritual matters for themselves.

    Something important to do or a higher purpose or calling – While taking the journey, I found a higher purpose. I needed to make sense of my experiences, and I have found that sharing my story gives my suffering meaning. I share my story through writing and speaking. Writing my book Being Mentally Healthy has been a kind of therapy; it gave me a sense of coherence. I have been speaking for the Schizophrenia Society since 1995. I find it is important to talk about my journey if there is ever to be an end to the stigma associated with mental illness. I know what I have learned can ease other people’s journey – no matter how they connect with my story. In 2012, I opened the Being Mentally Healthy Company (BeingMentallyHealthy.com) which provides education and encouragement to those seeking recovery tools. I am booked as a speaker at many industry events, and I am writing two more books to support people with mental illness. Being the CEO of my own company helps me be well as it is fulfilling my higher purpose.

    Knowing how to help – Schizophrenia is a life-long biological illness of the brain, but recovery is possible. In this list of 7 things you must know about being mentally healthy, I have identified the steps I took to get better; I have given you my recipe for success. You, or someone you know with a diagnosis, can be mentally healthy in spite of a mental illness. Having a disability, like a mental illness, means that people have unique challenges but they are not insurmountable.”

    Wellness Has To Be The Number One Priority

    Elizabeth says, “With support and making wellness the first priority, you have the best chance to be well. My hope is that you will take my ideas and adapt them to your own situation and have a fulfilling work life. Remember, being mentally healthy is a journey, not the destination.”

    For organizations committed to workplace health, those who make mental well-being as much a priority as physical well-being, we salute you! Mental and physical well-being strikes a powerful balance that will ultimately result in peak performance and sustainable workforces. We are excited about the prospect of mental wellness being the common water-cooler conversation that is accepted, embraced, and supported in our daily work lives. The mind matters!

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