Research Effort in Canada Aims to Boost Mental Health in the Workplace

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the government of Canada's research agency, recently announced a $3.2-million initiative aimed at improving mental health in the workplace.

The research project, called "Mental Health and the Workplace: Delivering Evidence for Action," will support new health research teams from across Canada to work with workplace organizations to help improve mental health in the workplace, according to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

"During the next decade, the World Health Organization predicts that in high-income countries such as Canada, depression will surpass heart disease to emerge as the leading cause of disability," said the Honorable Michael Wilson, special advisor to the health minister on mental health in the federal government workplace. "Knowing this, it is imperative that Canada's health research community work in partnership with Canada's workplace organizations to help improve and increase our knowledge in this area."

"Mental Health and the Workplace: Delivering Evidence for Action" is designed to create a solid base of research evidence in the area of workplace mental health as well as:

  • Increase the number of heath researchers trained in the area of mental health in the workplace;
  • Build a coalition among workplace stakeholder groups in order to enable research in identified priority areas;
  • Foster the development and evaluation of innovative policy and program interventions and identification of best practices;
  • Facilitate access to data from public and private sector sources;
  • Develop and evaluate measurement tools that can be used to collect information on workers at the organizational and societal levels; and
  • Facilitate the effective exchange and translation of knowledge gained from the research into the workplace, resulting in actions by stakeholders and partners.

Several branches of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research -- the institutes of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction; Population and Public Health; and Gender and Health -- and their partners launched the initiative at a workshop convened in April 2004 to develop workplace mental health research priorities.

More than 100 participants, representing a broad range of expertise in workplace mental health issues, attended the workshop. About 40 percent of the participants were researchers; the remainder were representatives of many workplace stakeholder groups including employers, unions, insurers, health providers, professional organizations, national and provincial grant agencies and planners, community organizations, consumers groups and politicians.

"Last February, I committed to a more comprehensive, more integrated approach to better deal with mental illness in the workplace," said Minister of Health Ujjal Dosanjh. "I announced the appointment of the Honorable Michael Wilson as special advisor and requested the formation of an interdepartmental task force, among other activities. This research announcement is another important step to improve and increase our knowledge of mental health in the workplace."

Dosanjh, Wilson and Dr. Rémi Quirion, scientific director of the Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction, announced the $3.2-million research initiative at an April 13 roundtable on addiction and mental health for leaders in business, labor and science in Toronto.

"I hope that many organizations will come to the table to support this important initiative. Their participation is key to helping to develop new knowledge relevant to mental health and the workplace and to turn that knowledge into practice," Quirion said. "By working together, CIHR-funded researchers and workplace organizations will be able to apply the new knowledge to improve policies, programs and practices and potentially prevent and treat mental illness."

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