Back in the early 2000s when the economy was booming more than a quarter of million Ontarians experiencing serious mental illness could not find a job.
Mental illness and poverty are a catch-22. A mental illness can make an individual subject to stigma and discrimination that in turn can make it difficult to find work. On the other hand, not having work or a sustaining income can be a substantial risk factor for mental illness. Countries with rising levels of income inequality also experience a corresponding rise in mental illness.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, mental illness often first becomes evident in adolescence and early adulthood, often impacting on the ability of an individual to secure the kind of education they need to get ahead.
We’ve been thinking about this issue over the last two days, each spent in a different part of our province.
On Monday we were in London to learn about a vocational workshop that provides low-stress simple work for patients connected to the Regional Mental Health Care hospital. The contracts for work come from local businesses. Excluding the salary of the five people who run the workshop, it has been self-sustaining in the past and has provided income and support for up to 120 individuals at a time, many of them unlikely to find work anywhere else because of their illness. Despite its deep roots in the community, that workshop is coming to an end in March and it is likely most of their participants will have nowhere else to go. The five staff that run the workshop have between them more than 200 years of experience. Despite the incredible need for mental health care, they too will likely be without a job in April.
Today we were in Kingston, where a significant number of staff face layoff in the New Year at the former psychiatric hospital run by Providence Care.
They too have seen a stripping away of services from their hospital with the vague promise that alternate services will be provided in the community for their former patients — maybe someday. When we looked at the most obvious agency capable of picking up such work, it too had seen a cut in its base funding this year.
Earlier this year staff at Providence Care told us they saw their clients emerging from a park on Labour Day as the union members arrived in the morning for their annual celebration. These former clients had been sleeping rough without a home to go to.
They know that the patients who come to their hospital are caught in the catch-22 of mental illness and poverty.
With cuts and job losses coming, its not the best of holiday seasons for these workers. It’s not just the departure of their colleagues that worries them, but the future of the patients to which they provide care.
Local 431 took up a collection among their membership and to their surprise found many were generous, even with the prospect of their own unemployment facing them.
Today they presented two cheques to two charitable agencies that they know their patients rely upon in the community. A thousand dollars and a quantity of groceries went to the local food bank, a little bit more went to Kingston Home Base Housing, a agency that provides supportive housing to homeless individuals with disabilities – the kind of people they saw emerging from the park back in September.
After the cheques had been prepared, one member showed up wanting to add another $20 to the total.
Two cheques and a slightly crinkled $20 bill — it’s not the kind of presentation that generates headlines in the local media. No reporter showed up. Nobody is going to be astounded by a donation of just more than $2,000. But the Local really wanted to do it.
It’s been a tough year. Amid so much bad news these workers wanted to generate their own good news story – at least one little one in time for the holiday season.
Watch this space for more on the London workshop closure in the coming days.