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  • 24 January 2023
  • 1 year

Providing Mental Health Support for Family Members

Anjali Sharma

EAP Clinical Counsellor

Every year, Bell Canada hosts the initiative Bell Let’s Talk to raise awareness about mental health and combat the stigma against mental health. Bell Let’s Talk is a campaign dedicated to improving mental health support and making mental health care more accessible to Canadians. Objectives include funding scientific and empirical research along with making workplaces more inclusive for employees experiencing mental health-related issues.

It is imperative to acknowledge what we are up against. Research shows that by the age of 40, almost half of the Canadian population have had or will have a mental illness. These statistics are consistent over all cohorts, irrespective of gender, culture, and income levels. These numbers have only gotten worse due to the recent pandemic. Employees and their family members are not immune to these mental health concerns. Day in and day out, Bell Canada receives requests for support for family members, yet research shows that 1 in 2 Canadians are not getting the support they need. Data indicates that employees are encountering barriers when supporting family members in need.

Cross-cultural research suggests that employees may be unable to provide support because of accessibility, affordability, or stigma. Employees and their family members find mental health care inaccessible because of a lack of knowledge and awareness regarding when a situation warrants professional intervention. When combined with the stigma around mental health, these factors often cause employees and family members to hesitate to seek help—fearing that doing so may have adverse social repercussions.

How this affects an employee

It is common to experience confusion when a family member receives a diagnosis of mental illness. Employees may feel various negative emotions like frustration, sadness, and grief. The effects of caregiving are no mystery to anyone.

Caring for a family member with an illness, no matter how temporary its effects, is a stressful experience. Statistics from 2012 showed that approximately 38 percent of Canadians had at least one immediate or extended family member who had mental health problems, mostly problems with emotions or the use of alcohol and drugs. Canadians reported that the mental illness of their family members had caused them to feel worried, anxious, and depressed (Pearson, 2015). Studies have also shown that family members may experience negative effects of the mental illness of person they are living with, such as an increase in maladaptive coping with stress in ways like engaging in substance use, generalized anxiety, worry, and negative impact on moods as well as perceived loneliness. Depending on what role the family members play in an employee’s life–such as a parent or a spouse—their mental health may impact the employee indirectly, resulting in a withdrawal of emotional support and overall effect. These issues would be compounded if the employee is also the primary caregiver for the family member or is somehow responsible for catering to the needs of minors or other dependents while the partner is suffering from a temporary dysfunction. It would increase the amount of responsibility falling on the employee.

Struggling family members often also indirectly isolate the employee. The family member restricts the employee’s ability to seek help from their social support for fear of sharing an intimate personal detail of the family member with a shared social circle. This may render the individual isolated and incapable of reaching out for help, even if they have robust social support.

Supporting a family member

The first step in supporting a family member is to recognize that they need help. Employees can notice a family member is struggling when there are overt and observable discrepancies in their daily activities–that of eating, sleeping, engaging in social roles, and engaging in activities that they previously found enjoyable. Sleeping very little or too much, gaining or losing drastic amounts of weight, and neglecting personal hygiene are signs of a person’s turbulent mental state. These warning signs warrant a gentle conversation regarding the family member’s mental and emotional state. It is pertinent to offer support and refrain from judgment. The mental illness has likely been isolating for the family member, and it is essential to offer companionship. If they do mention any significant concerns or worries, they should be recommended some form of professional support.

The topic of talking to a mental health professional may be a sensitive conversation. It may be met with reluctance owing to the stigma around mental health. It is pertinent that the employee normalizes the idea of mental health and treats the meeting as a conversation with a purpose–of getting to the underlying cause of a person’s mental state and working towards eventually improving it.

What can employers do?

  • Offer support to employees and their families and marketing the use of these services as confidential. Engaging in campaigns and workshops accurately describing the impact of poor mental health on employees’ quality of life.
  • Emphasis should be laid on seeking help and normalizing the process of doing so.
  • Educate and raise awareness on topics such as work-life balance, time management, and other concepts pertaining to organizational mental health.
  • Encourage a good work-life balance. Set basic guidelines around working overtime and rewarding behaviors that enable healthy work practices.
  • Use tools and resources given by the Government of Canada, which has partnered with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).
  • Have people in management and leadership roles do basic mental health first aid training to inculcate sensitivity towards issues of employees and that of their families such that reasonable accommodations can be made when necessary.

As challenging as the news of a diagnosis may be, it is helpful to acknowledge that mental health diagnoses cannot be prevented. They are not used to label and ostracize but rather to identify and treat. Mental health issues are common, and we cannot be left unscathed by them—however, we never have to go through them alone.

Workplace Options helps individuals balance their work, family, and personal needs to become healthier, happier, and more productive, both personally and professionally. The company’s world-class member support, effectiveness, and wellbeing services provide information, resources, referrals, and consultation on a variety of issues ranging from stress management to clinical services and wellness programs. Contact us to learn more. 

Disclaimer: This document is intended for general information only. It does not provide the reader with specific direction, advice, or recommendations. You may wish to contact an appropriate professional for questions concerning your particular situation.


Canadian Mental Health Association. (2021, July 19). Fast Facts about Mental Health and Mental Illness. Retrieved January 11, 2023, from

Pearson C., (2015, November 27) The impact of mental health problems on family members. Statistic Canada. Retrieved January 11, 2023, from

Helpful Resources

CAMH – When a Family Member Chooses not to Seek Help

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety

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