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March 24, 2012 / mike54martin

When Talking May Save A Life

Mental illness is one of the few stigmas left in our tell-all, tell-everybody via Facebook world. It is one of the few things that we don’t share with anybody, especially at work. We can talk openly about our enlarged prostate, that lump in our breast or even our leaky heart. But when it comes to anxiety, stress or depression, not a word escapes our lips.

Too many Canadians suffer in silence or do not get treatment because they are afraid that other people will see them as defective, or weak, or god forbid, mentally ill. Some of these people, our family, friends and co-workers get really sick and have to be hospitalized. Some don’t make it to the doctor and self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Some die, suddenly and without needing to. They have chosen a permanent solution for an often temporary problem, their mental illness.

Without being too preachy, I hope, I think it’s time we pulled mental illness out of the closet and put it on live, in prime time. So for anyone wanting to be part of the solution here are a few stats.  21% of all Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime and 10% of the adult population is experiencing a mental illness at any point in time. Like right now.

Mental illness also costs a lot of time and money. The top causes for absenteeism in the workplace continue to be “depression/anxiety and other mental health disorders” (66%) and “stress” (60%). In 2006 the total resource burden of mental illness inCanadaamounted to $31.3 billion. This included $7.7 billion of direct government expenditures (our taxes) and $23.6 billion of indirect productivity losses due to mental illness. Some estimates put it over $50 billion today. In 2005 alone one major benefits company reported that there was a 27 percent increase in long term disability costs that they attributed to an aging workforce, increasing productivity demands, and rising mental health claims.

So what can we do about it? We think we can’t do much as individuals because we are not mental health professionals. That’s true but we are expert friends and expert colleagues. We know how to ask someone if they are feeling okay or if they want to talk. We know when someone might be suffering from some sort of mental illness or issue. We don’t have to diagnose it. We just have to be strong enough to discuss it.

Together, once again trying not be preachy, we can make a difference on mental illness. Stick your neck out of your shell and take someone who’s obviously in distress for coffee. It won’t kill you and it just may save their life.

Mike Martin is a freelance writer and workplace wellness consultant. This article first appeared o my blog at

One Comment

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  1. matfitz / Mar 26 2012 2:57 am

    What a great post. I really think the world has gotten too busy to care for the people we work with every day. I’d like to see more humanity in the workplace. You don’t need to be a manager to show interest in someone, but if you are a manager you’re in a great position to help someone.

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