The Mental Health Commission of Canada is partnering with more than 25 Canadian employers to study how well businesses are using a year-old federal program meant to give companies the tools they need to encourage and support better mental health in the workplace.

The three-year research project will assess how well businesses are using a set of guidelines focused on promoting employees’ mental health and preventing psychological harm from workplace factors.

Dubbed the , the voluntary program was launched last year and was a world first.

The Mental Health Commission says the response to the Standard so far has been positive, noting the documents have been downloaded more than 16,000 times.

Some of Canada’s most prominent business leaders have endorsed the standard, including George Cope, the president and CEO of Bell Canada and BCE. Cope said Bell has been focusing on removing the stigma of mental illness for some time and adopted the Standard “overnight.”

He says the company has already made sure all managers in the company are trained on mental health issues. It’s also adjusted its return-to-work program for company employees who need to go on short and long-term disability because of mental illness.

The issue is important, Cope said, because just about everyone has a friend of family member who’s been affected by mental health issues.

“Having a governance process in place is important, because at the end of the day, it’s also good for business. It’s good for business to have employees on short-term disability for not as long. More importantly, it’s just the right thing to do.”

The new research project will track more than 25 Canadian workplaces as they implement the Standard over the next three years. The study should help to inform how the Standard can then be expanded, the Mental Health Commission says.

Dr. Kellie Leitch, the federal minister of labour and minister of the status of women, says 35 million work days will be lost this year in Canada due to mental health issues, and mental illness costs the Canadian economy $51 billion a year.

“So how do we deal with it? We deal with it by having a plan. by using the Standard and other tools to make sure your colleagues are healthy and that they’re being responded to ,” she told a news conference Thursday announcing the research project.

She said the most successful workplaces treat their employees as part of the family, and offer them opportunities to ask for support when they need it.

“It’s about making sure that our employees are a priority. They’re your most valuable asset. And if they’re producing at their best, your company is going to be successful,” Leitch said.menta