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Mental Health in the Workplace

by Nicola on 2015-05-23

Mental Health in the Workplace
By Nicola Davies

The President and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Perrin Beatty, once said: “When we talk about skills and human resources, we don’t often talk about the importance of a psychologically healthy workplace. We take it for granted. This is a mistake.” A market research company called Ipsos Reid conducted a survey among Canadian employees in 2012 and their findings seem to prove that Beatty’s statement is correct. The survey found that 70% of Canadian employees reported some degree of concern with the psychological health and safety in their workplace, 25% experienced anxiety, helplessness or depression, and 22% were worried about losing their jobs.
Achieving good mental health in the workplace is a major concern for the general population of Canada. It is even more challenging for certain groups, such as Inuit. First and foremost, it can be difficult for them to find a job. According to the 2012 Aboriginal People Survey (APS), 80% of the Inuit group cited ‘shortage of jobs’ as the reason for their unemployment. Almost half of the workforce is only able to work part-time because full-time work is not available. A shortage in available work can make people fearful of losing their job. This fear, in turn, can affect their mental health because they might feel threatened by co-workers who are excelling; and instead of helping create a work environment where everyone is productive, they might focus on protecting their jobs no matter what.
Mental health for the Inuit workforce can also be negatively affected when co-workers constantly outperform them in the workplace. The APS survey also showed that 60% of the Inuit workforce lack training and education and 55% lack work experience in order to be competitive in their career. Not only do they need to deal with discrimination and language fluency problems, but fear can also prevent them from taking steps to improve their work standing. This was also indicated in the survey, which found that 22% of those who were unable to finish high school and 32% of those who were unable to graduate with any certification lacked the confidence to seek additional schooling that is required for better work opportunities. 
All these work-related challenges that are specific to, and prevalent in, communities such as Kugluktuk can take a toll on a person’s mental health. Not only does this affect work performance, but it also has a negative impact on relationships with co-workers, employers, family, friends and community.
The Benefits of Mental Health in the Workplace
There are physical benefits to having a healthy mental state at work. It reduces the chance of physical health problems like heart disease, cancer, back pain and injuries. More importantly, according to the Workplace Strategies for Mental Health, when a person feels their place of work is ‘psychologically unsafe,’ they are two to three times more likely to develop a drug abuse problem. So, having positive mental health can prevent and reduce dependence on illegal drugs. This is particularly important to Kugluktuk since substance abuse has been one of the community’s major concerns for several years.
When employees have a positive attitude towards work, they experience less work-related stress and avoid causing conflicts in the workplace. They value their work more and are also less likely to skip work or resign. Workers are also more engaged, more productive, and more creative - traits that are essential to the overall performance and economic success of a company. Training and employing mentally healthy workers will benefit the Kugluktuk economy and develop the community as a whole.
Improving Mental Health in the Workplace
There are several ways to improve mental health in the workplace; as an employee, manager, board member or stockholder.
For example, young people who are looking for work opportunities may have the greatest difficulty in getting a job because of a lack of experience, but they can enjoy initiatives that help build their skills, support additional schooling and improve their employability. Some of these initiatives are the First Nations and Inuit Summer Work Experience Program, the First Nations and Inuit Link Program, and the First Nations and Inuit Youth Employment Strategy (FNIYES), which all provide First Nations and Inuit youth with work experience, knowledge about their work options and opportunities to develop their skills. Volunteering can also provide valuable experience that can make youth more employable.
Kugluktuk adults who are looking for better work opportunities can also take advantage of the commitment of the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) to employ 50% Aboriginal peoples across the country. There are opportunities in public service, and Canada is also working towards building a well-represented government. In fact, as of September 2014, out of all the public service positions that were looking to hire in the Kugluktuk region, only 80% of those jobs were filled and 20% were still available.
Maintaining positive mental health in the workplace is also the responsibility of the employer; not only because it is a legislative requirement but also because it improves the profitability and long-term success of the business. Employers in Kugluktuk should adopt the initiative of the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) called the Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace. It provides guidelines for all Canadian employers to help them develop and improve the psychological safety and mental health environment of their workers. It teaches employers how to encourage commitment, leadership and participation among employees, how to properly address the diverse needs of company members, and how to sustain a positive mental health environment. 
Employers can also take advantage of other initiatives of MHCC, such as Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), which teaches employees and managers how to spot signs and symptoms of common mental health problems in the workplace, as well as how to counsel co-workers who are going through a mental health crisis.
Managers, board members and stockholders can also internally develop and implement a Comprehensive Workplace Health and Safety (CWHS) Program, which is a set of policies and activities developed by the employer together with the employees. It should aim to improve the employee’s quality of work, health and overall well-being. Together with the initiatives of external or governmental groups, internal programs such as the CWHS should be applied and continuously improved to ensure the positive mental health environment that will empower employees to perform their best and contribute to the development of the Kugluktuk community.


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