Men are less likely to seek help for depression in the workplace

Depressive disorders account for 41.9% of mental illness diagnoses in women, and they're more likely to speak up about it

Man staring out the window looking down


When it comes to taking a sick day, a bad case of the flu isn’t the only thing keeping Canadians from coming in to work. According to Statistics Canada, over 500,000 Canadians miss work because of a mental illness every week. A recent study by human resource consulting firm Morneau Shepell has found that, when it comes to counselling services, 63.9% of participants are women.

Just over a fifth of the employees accessing the services were women 50 and older, at 28.6%. These findings line up with statistics that show that depressive disorders account for 41.9% of mental illness diagnoses in women.

The study analyzed the productivity and attendance rates of 227 employees who used Morneau Shepell’s Depression Care program. The program takes employees who have been identified as depressive and pairs them with a counsellor and consulting psychiatrist. After an assessment, they are referred to their family doctor for further counselling or medication, and continue to receive Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) from their Depression Care counsellor.

“We had been offering our Depression Care service for a number of years, and we wanted to dig into our data and measure our impact…look and see who our end users were,” says Barb Vader, Vice President, Clinical Services at Morneau Shepell, and the study’s research lead.

Only 36.12% of employees using the program were male, with a decline in access for men 40-49 years of age. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t dealing with depression. Vader says that female employees are more likely to reach out for help than their male counterparts: “I think the challenge for us, and the challenge for the healthcare system, is how do we reach out to men, and how do we engage more men in the system? Where we see some progress is in the increasing male usage around fitness and wellness programs, but when the word counselling is brought up, less men come forward.”

The study found that employers using the program improved their workplace productivity and absence by 52%, and 32%, respectively.

“There are two main obstacles the program addresses: the continuity of the counselling, and the recommendation from the consulting psychiatrist,” says Vader. “The employee doesn’t have to sit on a waitlist waiting to see a psychiatrist…they have a support team, they have a treatment plan, they have coping strategies, and all of this can be set up within 48 hours of the initial assessment.”

Vader says she hopes the study’s findings will compel more employers to adopt the Depression Care program, which is beyond what is normally covered in most Employee and Family Assistance Programs (EFAPs). “A high functioning workforce creates a high functioning organization; wellness is an essential part of a productive workforce,” she concludes.