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Disabilities go more than skin deep; they're mental, too

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If someone asked you to give examples of a workplace disability, what would be the first thing you'd think of? A back injury from lifting something heavy? Or perhaps carpal tunnel problems from too many hours of data entry? We're accustomed to thinking only in physical terms when we consider workplace disabilities, but the facts actually point in a different direction.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the most common cause of disability in the United States and Canada is mental disorders. The Mental Health Commission of Canada recently decided to address the topic of mental and psychological health in the workplace, because they recognize that their country loses $50 billion each year due to workers' mental health problems. The commission's research indicates that 30 percent of short- and long-term disability claims are due to mental and psychological disorders.

To help employers address this issue, the commission has produced mental health guidelines for businesses to voluntarily follow. These include the following list of six workplace factors which affect psychological health and safety:

  • Psychological and social support
  • Clear leadership and expectations
  • Civility and respect
  • Recognition and reward
  • Workload management
  • Protection of physical safety

Here in the United States, there is not yet a unified public response to the problem of mental health disabilities in the workplace, but workers here certainly face the same struggle: The Canadian Mental Health Commission estimates that 1 in 5 Canadians suffer from a diagnosable mental illness each year, while the National Institute of Mental Health places the number at 1 in 4 for Americans.

Source: CTV News, "New voluntary standard aims to help improve mental health at work", January 26, 3013

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