Workplace Mental Health Research

Why workplace mental health research matters. 

Workplaces play an important role in mental health. 

While work can serve as a positive and productive outlet for those dealing with – or recovering from – mental illness, workplaces can also be stressful environments. According to Statistics Canada, for instance, employees who considered most of their work days to be ‘quite a bit’ or ‘extremely stressful’ were over three times more likely to suffer a major depressive episode, compared with those who reported low levels of stress. 

The burden of this is huge: Each week, more than 500,000 Canadians do not go to work due to mental health-related issues and illnesses. 

Mental illness has a major impact on the Canadian workforce and economy, and mental health is an issue that impacts every single workplace in our country. 

Seeing that most adults spend the majority of their waking hours at work versus anywhere else, addressing and providing adequate support for mental health issues in the workplace is critical. 

To do this, we need to not only have quality mental health care services in place to treat people when they become sick, but we also need to focus our efforts on keeping people well; by identifying those at risk of developing mental illness early, and implementing strategies to support at-risk individuals. 

Dedicated mental health research in the area of workplace mental health is needed to help employers develop and provide appropriate tools and resources to adequately support their employees, and to inform decision makers about the resources, investments and policies needed to create and maintain healthier workplaces in Canada and globally. 

“When it comes to mental health, the problem is that we are almost always reactive – people wait until they become depressed to see a doctor and get treated. However, prevention [which we are trying to achieve with prediction analytics] can be worth much more than treatment.”
- Dr. JianLi Wang

What we do. 

Ongoing work at The Royal’s Institute of Mental Health Research (IMHR) is laser-focused on tackling the important issue of how Canadian workplaces can systematically determine or predict the likelihood of employees developing mental illness, and implement effective strategies and resources to support at-risk individuals. 

Led by Dr. JianLi Wang, the Work & Mental Health Research Unit is conducting innovative work that strives to improve mental health in the workplace primarily through early intervention approaches and predictive analytics.

Dr. Wang and his team are currently in the preliminary stages of launching a groundbreaking demonstration study that will adapt his depression risk calculator (the first-ever risk calculator of its kind which estimates personal probability of having a major depressive episode in the next four years) for workplace use.  

The Work & Mental Health Research Unit is currently conducting work in two primary areas:

Risk prediction analytics

  • Depression risk calculators for individual use (tools that people can use to estimate their personalized likelihood of developing major depression, and take preventative action as needed); and
  • Workplace risk calculators (tools that employers can use to forecast the number of employees who are at risk of developing major depression and/or anxiety at the organizational level, and put effective mitigation strategies into place)

Programs and prevention methods

  • Web-based mental health programs for high-risk employees to enhance resiliency and self-care skills;
  • Randomized controlled trials to evaluate the effectiveness of web-based programs; and
  • Knowledge synthesis on important research topics, including the best interventions for those with mental health issues to return to work, and prevention methods for workplace depression.