Canadian workers struggle to find right mental health meds

Nearly a third of employees take a year before finding the right medication, finds report

Canadian workers struggle to find right mental health meds

Just because employees are seeking mental health medication doesn’t mean that they are actually getting the right remedy when they need it, according to a recent report.

Overall, 23 per cent of workers in Canada have taken medication for their mental health, reports TELUS Health.

Among these workers, however, nearly half (46 per cent) have had to try more than one medication or dosage to treat their condition.

And workers can take a long time to arrive at the effective treatment:

  • 32 per cent took more than a year
  • 17 per cent took between six and 12 months
  • 32 per cent took four to six months
  • 19 per cent took three months or less

This waiting game has a notable impact on workers’ Mental Health Index scores:

  • 48.7 for those who took more than a year to arrive at the effective treatment
  • 43.6 for those who took between six and 12 months
  • 50.2 for those who took between four and six months 
  • 54.8 for those who took three months or less

Recently, Alternative to Meds Center, a residential mental health center, warned that medication is not always the best way to deal with mental health problems.

“There are over 160 medicines in development, all aimed to address various mental health conditions,” it says. “While there are plenty of new mental health drugs in 2023, research is ongoing, and the jury is out as to whether they will prove to be an effective replacement for existing mental health drugs. These current drugs are often not the best way to improve mental health and create unwanted side effects of their own.”

About 500,000 Canadians are unable to work due to poor mental health every week, according to a previous report commissioned by the Future Skills Centre.

Overall, Canadian’s Mental Health Index score for the month of August is 65.2, an improvement of more than a half point from the prior month, according to TELUS Health’s survey of 3,000 people who live in Canada and are currently employed or who were employed within the prior six months.

Over three in 10 (31 per cent) of workers have a high mental health risk, 45 per cent have a moderate mental health risk and 25 per cent have a low mental health risk.

Workers' control over their health

Another factor that affects workers’ mental health is their control over their health, according to TELUS Health. Just 18 per cent of workers report that they have full control of their health, while the majority have significant control (43 per cent) or some control (35 per cent). 

The mental health scores go down along with the hierarchy of control over health:

  • full control - 80.6
  • significant control - 69.0
  • some control - 55.6
  • no control - 41.1

Health and wellness and employee wellbeing are very much now in the forefront of what HR executives are dealing with. I don’t think these things are viewed anymore as nice-to-have, they’re must-have programs,” says Michael Peters, CEO of Carebook Technologies in Toronto, in a previous report.

Employers stepping up to support workers’ mental health, meanwhile, can be a big difference, according to Mandie, senior director of employer and EAP strategy at Spring Health.

“Starting these conversations is often the hardest part, and taking small steps can lead to larger organizational changes,” she says.

“You can change your employees’ lives by advocating for the mental health support they need, building a plan to implement that support, embracing diverse ideas and perspectives, and always leading with empathy.”