OHS Canada Magazine

Tender Minds

April 8, 2018
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By Jean Lian

New and young workers are not only three times more likely to be physically injured during their first month on the job than their more experienced counterparts; they are also vulnerable to mental illnesses. According to Statistics Canada, young people aged 15 to 24 are more likely to experience mental illness and/or substance use disorders than any other age group.

A 2017 research study of more than 400 young adults seeking employment in Ontario explored the perspectives of youth aged 16 to 25 regarding the challenges they faced in entry-level jobs. Approximately 24 per cent of participants — four times higher than the general population — met the criteria for severe mental distress. Anxiety is the most commonly reported issue, although a range of other mental health concerns may be coexistent.

Findings of the study, Young Workers in Ontario: Psychosocial Vulnerabilities and Support Needs, were based on experiences shared by participating youth. Vulnerable groups like young workers are more likely to be in precarious employment, thereby putting them at greater risk of not receiving their employment standards entitlements. They may also lack the ability or the resources to understand their rights at work

According to a statement from the Conference Board of Canada issued on November 28, 2017, young Canadians living with depression and/or anxiety represent the highest cost to the Canadian economy in lost productivity. “Mental illness can affect anyone, regardless of age. Canada must ensure its mental-health agenda includes focused actions to address the mental health of all working Canadians, especially its youth who will be the workforce of tomorrow,” Louis Thériault, vice-president of industry strategy and public policy with the Conference Board, said in the statement.

New research by the Conference Board suggests that reducing the barriers for young adults seeking treatment and support for mental illness could lead to significant long-term benefits. Healthy Brains at Work: Creating the Conditions for Healthy Brains in the Workplace examined segments of Canada’s working population that would benefit most from improved mental illness treatment. For a single year, the 45 to 64 age group represents the highest economic cost, due to their higher income and productivity levels. But over the long-term, the youngest cohort has the largest economic impact as the reduced level of productivity persists for a much longer period if they have not recovered from their mental-health issue.

Given that the average worker in the 15-to-24 age group has approximately 40 to 45 years of work life remaining, it is estimated that their productivity would improve by about $29,000 over their entire working life if they had access to optimal treatment and support. This compares with $23,500 in productivity gains for a worker aged 25 to 44, and a $9,500 gain for those 45 to 64.

Currently, young Canadians between the ages of 15 and 24 are the most likely to have experienced mood disorders or major depressive episodes within the past year, the Conference Board notes. In view that mental illness can have a significant impact on workplace performance by contributing to absenteeism and presenteeism, the study says access to mental-health supports, especially during key life-transition points like moving frrom high school to college or university, is critical. Gaps for those in precarious employment also need to be addressed as younger workers in precarious employment often have limited or no access to workplace-benefits coverage.

Jean Lian is editor of OHS Canada.