By Gerry Bellett, Vancouver Sun

The stigma attached to mental illness guaranteed it remained the last of the major health conditions to be recognized as a disability in the workplace.

But while embarrassment, ignorance, fear of ridicule or misunderstanding still keeps many employees and employers quiet, there is no hiding the elephantine size of a medical condition that today will cause a half-million Canadians to be absent from work.

The estimated cost to Canadian employers of mental illness absenteeism and presenteeism — being present but not fully functioning — is $6 billion a year in lost productivity, according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada.