Work and Mental Health


Work has a positive effect on mental health. Studies show that people with jobs are in better mental health than those who do not work. Indeed, in addition to providing income, employment promotes social interaction and develops skills and self-esteem.

However, the work world has transformed profoundly over the past decades. Working conditions have changed. Work requirements and responsibilities have increased. For example, some employers try to save money by demanding more work from a smaller number of employees. Some people have a harder time than others managing stress caused by these new working conditions.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, almost a quarter of the Canadian population experiences work-related mental-health issues. These problems may lead to one or more of the following consequences in the workplace:

  • Absenteeism, meaning the employee takes time off work more often
  • Presenteeism, meaning the employee goes to work but is not fully productive
  • The employee resigns due to difficulties experienced at work

In Canada, over 30% of disability claims submitted to insurance companies are related to mental illness.

The Most Common Mental Illnesses in the Workplace

Anxiety disorders and depression are among the most common mental illnesses in the workplace. “Burnout” is also very common. Even though burnout is not officially identified as a mental illness, it is understood to be the result of chronic work-related stress.

Risk Factors

Some risk factors related to working conditions can cause certain mental illnesses. These factors include:

  • Work overload
  • Lack of support and recognition
  • Lack of autonomy at work
  • Lack of communication and information
  • Employer is not open to considering measures for work-life balance 
  • Strained workplace relationships (psychological harassment, for instance)
  • Lack in precision of instructions and mandates
  • Job insecurity, meaning that there is no guarantee of keeping one’s employment

Certain personal, social and economic elements can also be risk factors. As such, personal or family difficulties and financial problems, combined with work requirements, can sometimes have an effect on the mental health of some people. Such individuals can experience temporary psychological distress, have difficulty adapting or even exhibit symptoms of a mental illness.

To learn more about the risk factors of mental illness, read Mental Health (Mental Illness).

Aggravating factors

Negative views and discrimination due to prejudice can aggravate the suffering of people with mental illness. Some people can experience profound distress due to such behaviours and attitudes.

To learn more, read Fighting the Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness.

Tips for Good Mental Health at Work

You can maintain good mental health at work and prevent symptoms of mental illness.

  • Take the entire period of breaks to which your work schedule entitles you
  • Participate in any programs for wellness or how to organize work time that might be offered at your place of employment
  • Set aside time for social and friendly gatherings with colleagues
  • Seek support from colleagues during periods of stress or more intense work
  • Apply the tips for maintaining good mental health.
  • Avoid resorting to alcohol and drugs to manage work-related stress
  • If you experience negative feelings because you think you have suffered an injustice, talk with your employer or someone you trust to find solutions
  • If necessary, seek help from a health professional. You can also contact the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if one is available at your place of employment

Concrete action will help you maintain good mental health at work.

Also, keep in mind that the sooner one seeks help when initial symptoms of mental illness appear, the greater the chances of a quick recovery. To learn about the signs and symptoms of mental illness, and to know when to seek help, read Mental Health (Mental Illness).

If you are thinking about suicide and fear for your safety or that of those around you, read the information page on suicide prevention. It includes information on all available help and resources.

Last update: September 27, 2016 12:02 PM


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