Mental Illness: The Trillion-Dollar Elephant in the Workplace
In a knowledge-based economy, brains matter —and not taking care of our mental health has a negative impact on the bottom line, according to a recent report from the Global and Business Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health, a group of scientists, medical and business professionals established to raise awareness of the economic impact of mental illness.
Depression has a fairly high profile these days —you can see TV ads for pills to treat it; Olympic speedskater Clara Hughes has gone public about her experience with it. A viral video campaign, begun in response to the suicide of a depressed gay teenager, features celebrities reassuring depressed teens that things will get better. Recent reports from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and Toronto’s Center for Addiction and Mental Health, among others, have drawn attention to the need to deal with it.
But the taboo surrounding discussing depression on an inter-personal level, and especially in the workplace, remains.
Bill Wilkerson, co-chair of the round table along with Mulroney-era cabinet minister Michael Wilson —who has openly discussed the suicide of his son, who battle depression — says linking depression to other chronic conditions that have an identifiable impact on the workplace through absenteeism and health-care costs will help to remove the stigma.
“We’re trying to get to the point of saying, ‘look, this isn’t about mental illness, this is about brain function, our immune system, our cardio-vascular health, our recovery from cancer, our avoidance of Type 2 diabetes, our capacity to have productive brain function in an economy where brain skills will be required in three-quarters of all of the jobs coming on-stream in the next five to 10 years,” says Wilkerson. “This is a brain economy, depression is a brain disorder with profound implications for the systemic health of human beings and ironically the systemic health of an innovation-based economy.”