I debated whether to use “burden” in the title. Is it too harsh, too dark? Mental illness is, in fact a burden on the economy, companies, and most importantly on people. I can use the word, I have been there.
I live in a small city in Nova Scotia, Canada. Thus my main reference points are Canadian. However, I learned about the prevalence of mental illness in the United States through my years of volunteering with Bring Change 2 Mind, a mental health advocacy group co-founded by Glenn Close. We shared personal stories of mental illness and also the broader picture of national awareness.
I love statistics, they provide context. So I appreciate hearing the most current numbers on a topic or issue.
On September 1, the Conference Board of Canada issued a new report on mental illness and its impact on the economy. Lost productivity due to workers’ depression and anxiety costs the Canadian economy $50 billion a year. The loss is incurred by absenteeism, when workers are off work, and presenteeism, when workers are at work but don’t perform well due to their mental illness.
Disability claims based on mental illness account for 30 percent of all claims. The value of these particular claims range from $15 billion to $33 billion in any given year.
These statistics come as no surprise given that one person in every five in Canada will have a mental health issue this year. In the United States, it is one in four.
These results are comparable to results from other research over the last 10 years.
Don’t worry, for the readers who aren’t excited by numbers, I will share personal stories soon.
Now for my bluntness or cynicism some may say. The corporate world will change how it treats workers living with mental illness when that issue has a negative impact on the financial bottom line. As noted above, that day may be coming soon. The hard numbers hurt when a CEO reads a company financial statement and the losses can be attributed to the workers’ struggles with mental illness. It may even be the CEO who has a mental illness. We need to then offer a road map to how mental illness ought to be addressed. There are many Mental Health in the Workplace programs available. It’s sad that only a small number of companies here are involved in such initiatives though.
I am optimistic that we will get to a better place when the workplace is safe and comfortable. The bottom line dollar will rule.
“I just got paid today,
got me a pocket full of change.
Said, black sheep, black, do you got some wool?
Yes, I do, man, my bag is full.
It’s the root of evil and you know the rest
but it’s way ahead of what’s second best.” ZZ Top
After my diagnosis and mental breakdown, I wasn’t well enough to work. I wouldn’t work until 8 years later.
One bump I had was that I did not have disability insurance due to a pre-existing condition.
I was fortunate though because I had saved and invested in some real estate. I cashed in savings at first. Mind you they were originally destined to be used for my early retirement. I had no choice, I needed money. In the midst of those difficult days, I sold my real estate. I was able to have money to pay my bills.
There were a few gap years when I had no money. All I had was gone. I couldn’t buy a newspaper. Here I was in my mid-forties—broke. I had worked so hard for years in the plan of an early retirement. I saved, I invested. I hit a huge bump with my mental illness ruling my life. Unable to work, I was destitute. It was still hard to accept that I had nothing. Not a good place. I still break out into a sweat when I remember that time.
My family supported me and provided the basics of life. Without them, I would have been homeless and hungry.
I certainly learned and knew that money doesn’t bring happiness. I had it all—a house on the lake, vehicles, a successful career in terms of money, trips, savings, cash, but I was empty. A void lived in my mind and heart. Money does though make life easier.
Money plays an important role with mental health awareness and acceptance. It most likely will be the factor that kickstarts more companies to welcome mental health programs into the workplace. Everyone will benefit.
We must go beyond that though and look at the individual person and how can that person be supported and helped. I had my own resources. Not everyone is so fortunate. We need to find that person and reach out. Chances are that person is unable to reach out. Mental illness is too all encompassing.
Photo: Getty Images