Corporate Canada needs to help break the silence on mental health

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Chief executive officer and senior partner, KPMG in Canada

While Canadian workplaces have seen some progress in the understanding of mental health issues, a large stigma still remains. This stigma sees many Canadians suffer in silence for fear they will be judged for talking about their mental health.

This has to change.

Recent statistics show that one in five Canadians will experience a mental health concern at some point in their lifetime. In our business environment today, pressures are abundant and can escalate at the busiest times of the year. Long hours and the need to be accessible via mobile devices – all while balancing the needs of busy personal and family lives – are significant stresses affecting employees and can be particularly challenging for those already struggling with mental health issues.

As business leaders, we need to create and drive cultures that recognize the challenges our workers face and provide an environment that supports them every day. This means being proactive and building resilience in our people throughout the year and ensuring they have the right resources and supports when they need them.

While Corporate Canada has made strides toward being increasingly supportive around issues of mental health and well-being, we can do more. Resources such as 24-hour employee hotlines and expanded health benefits that cover supplemental treatments are important tools that go a long way in support of those struggling with mental illness. But many of these tools offer intervention only when our people are near crisis. We must support them every day so they can recognize and respond when help is first needed – for themselves or a colleague.

At KPMG in Canada, we’ve had a formal mental health strategy in place since 2014, the focus of which is raising awareness, providing training and building supports – though we’re careful not to take a blanket approach to the issue. Key in all of this is open dialogue – to break down the stigma and support our employees. We are committed to raising mental health and well-being at town halls, events and through communications with our people. We care about our staff, and we are invested in their ability to be and stay well.

In 2017, we also created the role of chief mental health officer (CMHO), a unique position in Corporate Canada. Denis Trottier is an audit partner and has lived through clinical depression while maintaining a successful career. Denis has inspired many at our firm and beyond by opening up dialogue and reducing stigma. Having an individual leader be the “face” of mental health in our firm means that we walk the talk, right from the C-suite level, so that our people can be comfortable sharing their stories and talking openly about mental health at the firm.

These are important steps in the right direction, but we know that stigma around mental illness in the workplace persists. Far too many people are still not comfortable asking for help. As leaders, we have a responsibility to change this.

But change doesn’t happen just because the CEO talks about it. Organizations need to embed mental well-being into the fabric of their human resources strategies. And they must also empower their managers to take action to talk to their teams about mental health and support an open dialogue that will remove the stigma and barriers that our workers face both inside and outside of the business. We need to be more proactive and help build resilience, which is key to prevention. Providing the right supports and resources to our people early can go a long way.

Only then will we create a safe and supportive environment that will break the silence on mental health.