When someone is dealing with a mental illness, everyday chores can be a challenge and being effective at work can be even more difficult, if not impossible. In Canada, like many other western nations, increasingly more people are affected by mental illness and as a result, are unable to function in their jobs.
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) reports that 20% of Canadians are personally affected by mental illness during their lifetime and about 8% of adults will experience major depression. This means that every Canadian will likely be affected by mental illness at some point in their lives, when a friend, family member, or colleague suffers from a condition such as depression, anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Some experts suggest that the reason for the change in the type of illnesses seen in the workplace relates to the nature of work and the pace of work. In particular, we have seen an increase in the level of stress in the workplace – a 2001 CMHA study found that 75% of Canadians feel stressed at least once a month and 43% feel very stressed a few times a week.
Also, jobs are more sedentary and less physical for most Canadians. These circumstances have led to a reduction in the percentage of claims for back injuries seen by insurance companies and an increase in claims related to mental health problems. In fact, about 30% of disability claims, including short-term and long-term disability, are attributed to mental health illness (per “Benefit plans can help with mental illness, but many still afraid to use them”, Financial Post, July 24, 2013).
A mental condition, such as depression, affects a person’s energy level, cognitive function, memory, emotional state, sleep patterns, and many other characteristics that directly impact the ability to function at work. Depression drains a person’s energy and ability to think, and people in any walk of life and occupation can be impacted.
If you have disability insurance, whether through your workplace or a private plan, you are entitled to long-term disability coverage if any illness or injury, including a mental condition, prevents you from performing your job. Many employers also offer programs or counselling for employees who suffer from mental illness, that are available even before the employee is off work.
If you are struggling with a mental health condition, it’s a good idea to peruse your workplace benefits package to find out what’s covered and whether your employer provides any support or resources that you can make use of before things get worse. Unfortunately, stigmas about mental illness and the fear of being judged can prevent many people from seeking help and treatment, but sufferers need to remember that they are certainly not alone and once depression is diagnosed and treated, about 80% of sufferers are able to return to their normal activities.
If a mental illness prevents you from doing your job, you may be eligible for disability benefits, just as you would if an injury or physical illness affects your ability to work. You can find out about your eligibility for long-term disability payments by talking to your disability insurance provider and/or checking the terms of your policy. As a rule, a person is eligible for LTD benefits in the first two years after they become disabled, if they cannot fulfill the duties of their current job. Two years after becoming disabled, a person is eligible if they are unable to fulfill the requirements of any job for which they are reasonably qualified, or could be qualified for, by way of education, training or experience.
The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that depression will be the 2nd most common cause of disability worldwide by 2020. Insurance companies now recognize that stress and mental illness take a significant toll on Canadian workers and companies. A Canadian insurer, Desjardins Life Insurance Company, has published “Mental Health: A Workplace Guide” to help employees understand how mental illness affects workers and the workplace, how to recognize mental illness in co-workers, and ways to support workers who are suffering from depression, anxiety and other conditions.