Canadian employers looking to create a mental health policy in their workplace now have a new set of guidelines to get them started.

On Wednesday, the Mental Health Commission of Canada along with several other groups released a voluntary national standard that organizations can use to help them bring in measures to promote and protect their workers’ mental health.

The standard, called "Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace – Prevention, promotion and guidance to staged implementation," is focused on promoting the good mental health of employees, as well as preventing psychological harm from workplace stressors.

The standard offers guidelines to developing a psychologically healthy workplace, with steps that include:

  • The identification of psychological hazards in the workplace
  • The assessment and control of the risks in the workplace associated with hazards that cannot be eliminated (e.g. stressors due to organizational change or reasonable job demands)
  • The implementation of practices that support and promote psychological health and safety in the workplace;
  • The growth of a culture that promotes psychological health and safety in the workplace
  • The implementation of measurement and review systems to ensure sustainability.

Mental Health Commission of Canada President and CEO Louise Bradley notes that one in five Canadians will experience a mental health problem in any given year, and many of the most at-risk are in their early working years.

“It’s time to start thinking about mental well-being in the same way as we consider physical well-being, and the standard offers the framework needed to help make this happen in the workplace,” she said in a statement.

The voluntary standard can be used differently by businesses of all sizes, depending on their needs.

Some might use the standard as a starting point for creating policies and processes in their workplace to promote mental health. Others might decide that several aspects of the standard are already in place but will use it to build on their existing efforts.

The initiative aims to help people like Arto Tienaho, who silently struggled with anxiety for decades.

In his 20s, Tienaho would have up to 10 panic attacks a day at work. The stress and the attacks forced him to take some time off, but when he returned to his workplace, he found little support from his bosses. Eventually, he quit.

Tienaho said the voluntary standard "is a real golden opportunity" to advance the conversation about mental health in the workplace.

Development of the voluntary standard was supported by funding from the government of Canada, the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, and Bell Canada.

George Cope, president and CEO of CTV’s parent company BCE and Bell Canada, believes the new standard will support and promote mental health in the workplace and the broader community.

"As part of the Bell Let's Talk mental health initiative, we are dedicated to implementing programs and practices that support the mental health of all Bell team members, and to working with other Canadian organizations in the development of their own mental health programs,” he said in a statement.

The company has already launched an initiative to promote Canadian mental health called Bell Let's Talk. It’s a five-year, $50-million program that aims to combat the stigma of mental health issues, as well as to improve mental health care, access and research, as well as improve workplace best practices.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada estimates that mental health problems and illnesses account for about 30 per cent of short- and long-term disability claims in Canada every year.

They say that 500,000 Canadians miss work each day because of a mental illness, costing the Canadian economy millions of dollars every year.

Bonnie Rose, the president of standards at CSA Group, one of the groups that helped draft the standard, says promoting and protecting workers’ well-being, self-esteem and job satisfaction are not just good for workers; they can also help to improve a company’s “bottom line.”

“There is also a clear business case which supports the need for continual improvement of psychological health and safety in the workplace,” she said in a statement.

With a report from CTV’s Scott Laurie