Showing Leadership in Mental Health

by | Jun 11, 2023 | Take 5 Articles

“Mental health is the greatest health challenge of our time,” Denise Lo, Chief Partnerships Officer of CAMH Foundation, the fundraising arm of the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), told benefits advisors at Benefits Alliance’s 2023 Spark Conference in Toronto in April.

The fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic continues, with hospital visits, admissions and virtual care visits for mental health conditions spiking significantly over the past three years. “Five hundred thousand Canadians miss work every week due to mental illness,” she said. Those who continue to go to work despite experiencing mental health challenges may have lower rates of productivity, engage in absenteeism, and are more likely to leave the workplace altogether.

To assist plan sponsors in designing a workplace mental health strategy, CAMH has created the Workplace Mental Health Playbook for Business Leaders, an evidence-based resource for organizations seeking to improve the mental health of their employees. “Since launching the playbook it has been downloaded tens of thousands of times,” she said.

While she acknowledged that a one-size-fits-all model doesn’t apply to mental health, the playbook can walk employers through the steps to a healthier workplace. “You can measure your performance and track your progress,” she said. “The data will show what is working and what is not.”

A top-down approach

The first priority for organizations is to develop an organization-wide mental health strategy that sets out their goals, said Lo. This strategy needs to involve every level of the organization and be equitable and fair to all employees, to prevent someone from falling through the cracks, she said.

The remaining essential components of a mental health strategy are:

  • mandatory mental health leadership training;
  • tailored mental health supports in the workplace;
  • a return-to-work process; and
  • tracking progress.

Leadership on a broader scale

Plan sponsors can go one step further by supporting CAMH’s No One Left Behind campaign, “the world’s largest fundraising campaign to support hospital-based mental health research,” said Lo.

CAMH’s facilities and services for patients and their families uniquely position it as a “living lab,” she explained. The campaign will accelerate its research and innovation in brain science, equitable access to mental health supports, precision medicine, youth mental health and late-life mental health (i.e., stopping dementia before it starts).

More than $400 million of the $500 million goal has been raised, and Lo hopes that more employers will be part of the home stretch. “Your organization can build a future where no one is left behind,” she said.

Workplace fundraising campaigns are also an excellent way to engage employees. CAMH offers ideas and a toolkit for community fundraising. Its Sunrise Challenge is also available as an annual peer-to-peer fundraising event that can involve and inspire employees. This year’s event was held from May 29 to June 2.