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Employers and colleagues, step up: Over 1.5 million in GTHA labour force have experienced mental health issues – CivicAction says we can all help

TORONTO, April 18, 2016 – CivicAction today released first ever research estimating that over 1.5 million (or 1 in 2) people in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area’s (GTHA) labour force have experienced a mental health issue. Over the next 10 years, current mental health issues in the GTHA labour force could result in almost $17 billion in lost productivity.

These numbers are significant, but only represent a fraction of the impact when you consider the economic opportunity of creating a mentally-healthy, productive workforce. “This is one of the defining public health issues of our time, one that is increasingly impacting our personal health and our economic potential as a region,” says Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO of CivicAction. “Our mental health touches every part of our lives, including our workplaces, so to change the culture at work will improve the overall quality of life in the GTHA.”

Standing with CivicAction are almost thirty organizations – including Bell, TD Bank Group, RBC, Sun Life Financial, Toronto Life, Facebook, CAMH, Unifor, and Voices from the Street – committed to taking action to make the workplace a more supportive place for employees’ mental health. The organizations are members of the Champions Council co-chaired by Paula Allen, Vice President of Research and Integrative Solutions at Morneau Shepell and Rupert Duchesne, Group Chief Executive at Aimia Inc. They are joined by an Advisory Group from Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, Mental Health International, Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, and the Wellesley Institute.

“We’ve seen great movement on the mental health front, but the fear around disclosing is still a real threat, and this fear prevents people from getting help,” says Allen. “With over 70 per cent of people in a recent national survey saying that workplace stigma is a concern, there’s more to be done, and Morneau Shepell is proud to be part of an initiative that will further break down these walls and help make systemic change.”

In a region that is highly urbanized and culturally diverse with modest economic growth, mental health in the workplace is one of the key determinants of prosperity. People in our workforce face a number of economic and social challenges that can negatively impact their state of mental health such as:

  1. Income inequality in Toronto ballooned by 31 per cent between 1980 and 2005, the most drastic increase of any major Canadian city.
  2. Job insecurity: Fewer than half of all workers in the Greater Toronto Area are in permanent, full-time jobs.
  3. Racial discrimination: Research shows resumes with English-sounding names are 35 per cent more likely to receive call-backs than identical resumes with Indian or Chinese names.
  4. Family care demands: Over the next 10 years people in the GTHA workforce could provide an estimated 450 million hours of informal caregiving to people with dementia alone, a productivity opportunity cost of $30.4 billion.
  5. Housing conditions and affordability: The average home in Toronto cost over $600,000 by the end of 2015.

“The social case is there and the business case is clear with 82 per cent of those who report mental health issues saying it impacts their work,” says Duchesne. “It’s time to move on this issue and step up as businesses and as individuals.”

In the coming months, CivicAction, with its Advisory Group and Champions Council, will build on the new momentum and mobilize the GTHA’s employers and employees to better support the mental well-being of their colleagues and strengthen our people, businesses, and economy. In the meantime, mental health is an issue that touches everyone, and an issue we can all influence. CivicAction is calling on people to take simple steps now to better support co-workers:

As an Employer:

  1. Learn more about the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace.
  2. Encourage executives to talk openly about mental health.
  3. Train managers and employees how to recognize a behaviour change and how to respond.
  4. Offer and promote an Employee and Family Assistance Program.

As a Colleague*:

  1. Starting the conversation is often the first step. If you notice a change in someone’s behaviour, ask how they are doing.
  2. Stay connected with people who are off work (send an email, a card, or visit).
  3. Learn about employee services that are available to help colleagues having emotional or mental health challenges (e.g. employee assistance plans).
  4. Talk about making your workplace stigma-free.

*Source:  Bell Let’s Talk ( and Dr. Heather Stuart, Queen’s University, 2016.

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Research made possible by the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis and Morneau Shepell. Thank you to our event host Oxford Properties Group and to CNW Group for sponsoring this announcement.

For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Sarah Harris, Director, Communications, or (647) 267-4997

About CivicAction: For over a decade, CivicAction has brought together senior executives and rising leaders from all sectors to tackle some of our region’s toughest challenges. CivicAction sets a non-partisan agenda, builds strategic partnerships, and launches campaigns, programs and organizations that transform our region. To find out more visit or follow us on twitter at @CivicActionGTHA.


Additional Quotes:

Speaking as someone with a mental illness, I know that my ‘invisible disability’ is not always taken seriously, which can leave me feeling misunderstood, under-utilized, and unable to effectively contribute to the desired level of productivity.
-Harrison Wheeler, Comedian and Mental Health Advocate

Maximizing employee potential is a good business strategy for any organization as this relates directly to engagement and quality of contribution. By supporting psychological health, protecting psychological safety, and providing a mentally healthy workplace, employers can ensure the best success for every employee. Those that are vulnerable to conditions such as depression or anxiety can thrive in these workplaces, often contributing even during times of mental ill health.
– Mary Ann Baynton, Program Director, Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace

Listening to business executives speak to their experience with mental illness without fear, setting a powerful example both for the principle of recovery and for increased openness and understanding, has been one of the most exciting developments in years. I do feel as though I am sitting with Champions, and encourage others to speak out so that our numbers swell, and it’s stigma that gets the boot from corporations, not workers facing mental health issues.
– Pat Capponi, C.M., O.Ont, Lead Facilitator, Voices from the Street

Everyone has a role to play to ensure workplaces are psychologically safe environments – owners, managers, co-workers, and also the Government of Ontario. We have been working with champions of mental health to share best practices across the province, and I’m grateful to CivicAction and their partners for raising awareness of mental illness and promoting safer, healthier workplaces.
– Kevin Flynn, Ontario Minister of Labour

We need to initiate conversations about mental illness and wellness – what it looks and feels like – in schools, in workplaces and in local communities. I’ve lived with mental illness most of my life, and it was because of a culture of openness at my workplace that I felt I could open up about my experience. That was incredibly empowering. Given the time we spend at work, reducing the stigma around mental illness and promoting mental wellness has the potential to make a huge impact in all our lives.
-Adrian Lawford, Associate Vice President, Retail Products, TD Bank Group