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Success of first workplace mental health program hard to measure: agency

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TORONTO - A year after launching Canada's first national guidelines for workplace mental health, the agency behind the program says it doesn't know how many employers are using it — or how.

A few big names such as Bell Canada have publicly embraced the National Standard For Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace since its release in January 2013.

The document has also been downloaded more than 16,000 times, the Mental Health Commission of Canada said Thursday.

But whether employers have acted on its recommendations remains unclear.

"It's something that we are beginning to think about," Louise Bradley, the commission's president and CEO, said in a news conference marking the program's anniversary.

"We have developed an online survey that's now going to be made available to all of the 16,000 people who downloaded it to let us know who is implementing it."

The commission is also planning a three-year study to track how some 25 businesses apply the standard, a voluntary set of tools and resources meant to improve and support mental health at work.

The study, which is scheduled to begin Feb. 1, aims to chronicle how the guidelines affect each workplace and help promote the program on a national scale, the commission said.

The standard has been hailed as a groundbreaking effort to deal with a condition that affects one in five Canadians and keeps roughly half a million from going to work each week.

It has made Canada a global leader in battling mental illness, said Labour Minister Kellie Leitch.

"We've set now a new international bar," she said.

Safeguarding mental health in the workplace "not only improves the lives of individual workers but it makes solid business sense," said Bradley.

It helps boost productivity and reduce the costs of short- and long-term disability claims, she said.

Some companies may face practical hurdles in carrying it out, said George Cope, president and CEO of BCE (TSX:BCE) Bell Canada.

"I think it's a great first year (but) I think one of the challenges for companies is once they put the standard in, how do they do some of the training?" he said.

The telecommunications giant adopted the guidelines and has made mental health training mandatory for some 4,000 of its leaders, he said.

A more thorough version of that training will be offered through a new workplace mental health certificate training program.

The training program announced Thursday will be run by a human resources consulting firm — Morneau Shepell — and certified by Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. It will combine in-class and online learning.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version mistakenly said the training program would be run by Queen's University.

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