Insights on mental health at work

By Kerri Brkich
May 13, 2024
Photo credit: HAKINMHAN/iStock/Getty Images

Popular “Overcoming Burnout” webinar still available online

Until October 2024, you can find a recording of Overcoming Burnout free and on-demand at More than 800 members attended this live webinar when it was offered in October 2023, and more than 87% of those who responded to a subsequent survey described it as “above average” or “excellent.”

When it was created in 2019, CPABC’s Mental Wellness Steering Committee was given a twofold mandate: 1) to research how mental wellness and mental health issues were being addressed in other professions and in general society; and 2) to recommend what more, if anything, CPABC could do to support members and better protect the public. The committee launched CPABC’s first Mental Wellness Survey in September 2021 and issued a follow-up survey in September 2022. Highlights from both surveys were shared in CPABC in Focus in May/June 2022 and May/June 2023, respectively.

To build on the insights gained from its 2021 and 2022 mental wellness surveys, CPABC’s Mental Wellness Steering Committee invited three cohorts to participate anonymously in online discussions in 2023: candidates registered in the CPA Professional Education Program (CPA PEP), members in public practice, and members in industry. Participants were recruited from the 2022 survey respondents who’d expressed interest in taking part in additional research, and each discussion group met virtually over a two-day period (September 26-27).

The goal with this research was to better understand the current state of mental wellness as it relates to work among different subgroups, what helps or hinders participants’ mental wellness, and whether participants have access to the supports they currently need.

What our members, candidates, and students had to say about mental wellness at work

On positive and negative factors

Participants’ self-assessments of their mental wellness ranged considerably—from very positive to struggling. Still, there was a common thread among all three discussion groups, with individuals from each cohort describing a past or current struggle with mental wellness, demonstrating the universality of this issue.

When discussing the factors that positively or negatively affect their mental health, some participants said work is a positive factor, noting the benefits of feeling good about a job well done, making progress in their career, helping a client, and having a positive work environment. In general, however, work and school were not described as positive influences, and many participants said they rely on factors outside of work or school to maintain their mental wellness.

At the same time, many participants said mental health challenges don’t necessarily affect their work—or at least they try to keep them from doing so. However, they also acknowledged that having a positive mental state helps them focus at work, stay organized, and keep on top of deadlines, and agreed that being in a poor state of mental health has the potential to hinder work or school performance.

This feedback suggests that any steps taken to optimize the work environment to support workers’ mental health will—by extension—help minimize work/school-related problems as well.

Time and physical health constraints were also identified as barriers to mental wellness. Specifically, many participants said that while they know exercise, nutrition, and work/life balance positively affect their mental health, barriers such as a lack of time and poor health can make it challenging to work out, eat right, and juggle their professional and personal lives. Clearly, any support that can help them overcome these obstacles would be welcome.

On resources and access

When asked how they’ve addressed challenges related to mental health, most participants said talking to trusted and close family members and friends provided the greatest source of comfort, and many said they turn to physical exercise and leisure activities. These participants tend to rely on self-supplied and informal solutions, which they consider more accessible, rather than turning to more structured or work-sponsored resources, such as counselling.

When asked about more formal support services, participants’ answers tended to reflect the extent to which they’d actually reached out for these services in the past. Many said that while they know these kinds of services are available, they aren’t sure where to find them. Others said barriers like cost and waitlists make it challenging to access structured or work-sponsored services.

Participants who said they had used more formal mental wellness supports generally talked about seeing professional counsellors, therapists, and/or psychiatrists. Interestingly, even many of these participants had sourced professional services on their own, rather than seeking referrals through a resource offered by their employer or CPABC.

When asked about their comfort level in discussing mental health issues with an employer, some participants said they’d feel “fine” speaking up, while others expressed hesitancy—either because they worried about how they would be perceived or because they were skeptical about receiving any support.

It is likely fair to say that there are still some significant barriers for many employees when it comes to sharing mental health information with their employers (and even with their co-workers). This ongoing stigma (whether perceived or actual) reinforces the need for access to confidential and private external support services.

These kinds of external support services are also essential to sole practitioners, as self-employed participants in the public practice cohort identified the additional, and unique, challenge of literally having no one else to turn to at work for support (either formally or informally).

On advice for employers

When asked to discuss how employers can better support mental wellness, participants were particularly engaged, appreciating and adding to each other’s ideas. Here are some suggestions that emerged from these discussions:

Better management of workloads:

  • Maintain full staff/don’t expect teams to work short-handed;
  • Be proactive during busy seasons/hire seasonally to lighten workloads; and
  • Give candidates enrolled in CPA PEP a four-day work week while they’re taking the course modules.

Better health benefits:

  • Increase benefits for more counselling/provide access to regular counselling;
  • Offer free counselling over Zoom;
  • Subsidize gym memberships/reimburse costs for physical activities;
  • Increase paramedical coverage (e.g., coverage for acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage therapy);
  • Offer extended benefits for physical and mental well-being; and
  • Provide access to employee assistance programs.

More workplace initiatives:

  • Raise awareness of and advertise the supports available to bolster employees’ mental wellness;
  • Shift the culture by increasing the discussion of mental wellness at work/create an open-door policy/provide positive examples from leadership;
  • Focus on team-building and establishing good work relationships;
  • Have regular one-on-one check-ins with employees; and
  • Allow for more mental health days.

Other initiatives:

  • Send out an anonymous internal questionnaire on employee mental health;
  • Enable employees to fully disconnect from work rather than expecting them to work after hours; and
  • Provide more education about when employees should start seeking help.

Let’s keep the discussion going

The ongoing research conducted by the Mental Wellness Steering Committee aligns with CPABC’s efforts to support the evolving mental wellness needs of members, candidates, and students. If you have any thoughts you’d like to share on this topic, email us , and be sure to check out our infographic in the May/June 2024 issue of CPABC in Focus, as it highlights recent research into mental health in the Canadian workplace.

CPABC’s TELUS Health One MAP offers free and confidential mental wellness tools

All members, candidates, and students, along with their immediate family members, can access free and confidential mental wellness resources through CPABC’s TELUS Health One Member Assistance Program (MAP). The MAP can help you resolve work-related challenges; deal with stress, anxiety, and depression; address relationship issues; find legal or financial guidance; and much more.

Resources include:

  • Short-term, solutions-focused counselling and consulting services, offered outside of the workplace;
  • Personalized recommendations, such as assessments, digital clinical programs, and advice to help you reach your health and fitness goals;
  • Online audio, video, and written content on various topics from experts; and
  • Tool kits related to family life, health and fitness, money, and more.

How to access the TELUS Health One resources

  • Download the “TELUS Health One” app from Google Play (Android) or the App Store (iOS);
  • Visit | username: bccpa | password: Lifeworks
  • Call TELUS Health at 1-844-880-9142.

Kerri Brkich is the vice-president of external affairs and communications for CPABC. This article was originally published in the May/June 2024 issue of  CPABC in Focus.

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