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Psychologically healthy healthcare settings are important

More than 500,000 Canadians are away from work each week because of mental illness, costing the economy over $51 billion a year — and some of the people hardest hit are healthcare workers themselves.

On Monday, June 6, a panel of experts will explore how psychologically healthy healthcare settings are essential to patients’ health. The panel will be held during the National Health Leadership Conference (NHLC), held June 6-7, 2016 at Ottawa’s Westin Hotel. The NHLC is co-presented by HealthCareCAN and the Canadian College of Health Leaders.

“Stigma, stress, anxiety, depression and burnout are common workplace-related conditions in healthcare,” says Bill Tholl, President and CEO, HealthCareCAN. “Healthcare workers tend to feel like they’re invincible. So many others depend on them for care that they can neglect their own well-being, or fail to recognize that they sometimes need help too.”

Research shows that healthcare workers are 1.5 times more likely than people in all other sectors to miss work due to illness or disability. More than 40% of physicians say they are in advanced stages of burnout. Overall, 1 in 3 workplace disability claims and 70% of disability costs are now related to mental illness, overtaking lower back pain and other soft tissue causes for disability.

In response, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) and HealthCareCAN are working together to focus on the special needs of workplace. This work is part of a three-year case study to follow how more than 40 organizations are implementing their National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. The standard — a first-of-its-kind in the world — is a voluntary set of guidelines, tools and resources focused on promoting employees’ psychological health and preventing psychological harm due to workplace factors.

“We want to promote the health of our employees so they can be the best in delivering the care their patients need,” says Dr. Barbara Mildon, who works at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences as Chief Nurse Executive, and as the VP for Practice, Human Resources, Research, Centre for Education and Organization Development.

Dr. Mildon will discuss the issue on a panel that will also include Tholl and Louise Bradley, President and CEO of the MHCC.

Ontario Shores is among the organizations that are part of the case study. They implemented an award-winning psychological health index, taking 13 psychosocial factors in the MHCC’s standard and identifying relevant questions for an employee opinion survey.

Despite societal progress around de-stigmatizing mental health issues, Bill Tholl says that healthcare workers themselves often feel that stigma. “Sad, but true,” agrees Dr. Mildon. She says healthcare workers are used to treating illnesses based on what they can see and learn in tests. However, mental health is much trickier to diagnose. So even in healthcare, says Dr. Mildon, “there’s a perception that mental health isn’t as urgent as physical illness.”

Tholl is pleased to see that “increasing access to mental health will be one of basic building blocks of a new Health Accord. We are prepared to work with government to level the playing field between mental health and physical health.”

NHLC is the largest national gathering of health system decision-makers in Canada, including representatives from health regions, authorities and alliances; hospitals; long-term care organizations; public health agencies; community care; mental health and social services; government, education and research organizations; professional associations; and consulting firms and industry.

The NHLC lineup includes provocative plenary speakers, panels, and more than 30 concurrent sessions and poster presentations. These promise to galvanize the community around the theme of “Pathways to Innovation and Change”. Visit for more information.

HealthCareCAN is the national voice of healthcare organizations and hospitals across Canada. We foster informed and continuous, results-oriented discovery and innovation across the continuum of healthcare. We act with others to enhance the health of the people of Canada; to build the capability for high quality care; and to help ensure value for money in publicly financed, healthcare programs.


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