Campaign: It’s time we challenged our employers to talk about mental illness

Partners for Mental Health are blunt. They call it the cost of doing nothing.

That’s the cost of employers failing to address mental illness in the workplace.

PFMH has all the data. 500,000 Canadians will miss work today due to mental illness. One in three disability claims are related to mental illness. The cost of mental illness to Canada’s economy is estimated to be $51 billion per year – or about five times the current Ontario deficit.

Yet even talking about it is a stretch in most workplaces. According to PFMH only 23 per cent of Canadians would be willing to talk about their mental illness with their employer. That’s means more than three out of four would not.

If we can’t talk about it, how do we begin to deal with it?

It becomes particularly tricky when many of our employers are still using destructive attendance management programs. Given widespread stigma that exists around mental illness, workers could fairly wonder how their mental illness will be treated in such an environment.

Let’s face it, for many employers, a “mental health day” is still an ugly  euphemism for taking an unearned day off. Yet why should we not treat depression or stress anxiety the same way we would treat any other illness?

There’s no question that workers in health care, like others in public service, are under intense pressure right now.

Ontario hospitals are receiving no nominal increase in funding. In real terms that means funding cuts. This has led to layoffs, reductions in service, and added workload in a sector already known for excessive work overload. Many are wondering if their job is the next to go. The other health sectors are not much better. It’s a tinder box, yet little strategy is in place to deal with it.

PFMH was formed recognizing there was a role for advocacy in mental health. The Mental Health Commission of Canada has done a reasonable job of drafting a national strategy, but the targets will never be met unless Canadians start treating mental illness like they do breast cancer or heart disease. We all know politicians need a little push — so do our public sector employers.

Beginning May 9th PFMH will be launching its “Not Myself Today” campaign in the workplace. The campaign will encourage employers and employees to engage in a conversation about mental illness. The plan is to culminate in “Not Myself Day” on June 6th.

Many companies have already signed on, but our own health care employers still need to be challenged to get engaged.

The cost of getting involved is minimal – especially given the significant upside of engaging in this conversation. PFMH says that while the campaign is about fundraising, most of the money from campaign sponsorships will be used to provide materials, including toolkits, back in the workplace.

 That includes mood buttons that will allow people “to declare their support and energize a new conversation about workplace mental health.”

Whether you work in the public sector or private sector, you should ask your employer about participating in this event.

It’s a low risk way to get the conversation started.

For more details, go to http://notmyselftodayatwork.ca

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