Kudos to Camille Quenneville, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association, for pointing out governments looking to contain costs and provide better service should address mental health issues within their own workforce. Writing in the Ottawa Citizen last week, Quenneville points out that every day 500,000 Canadians are absent from the workplace because of mental health problems. Someone suffering a mental illness will be absent from work on average twice as long as someone with any other disability. Mental health illness account for about 30 per cent of short and long-term disability claims. Clearly this is not just an issue with government, but with all employers. The CMHA CEO does acknowledge that many municipalities are already beginning to address the issue through wellness programs and education programs that particularly address stigma. Earlier this summer Partners for Mental Health launched their own workplace program “Not Myself Today.”
The Canadian Medical Association Journal reported over the summer on what could be a groundbreaking piece of research being conducted by Dr. Evelyn Forget at the University of Manitoba. From 1974 to 1978 Dauphin Manitoba took part in a unique “labour market experiment” in which locals were given a guaranteed annual income supplement to keep them out of poverty. The CMAJ says the experiment folded as a result of high interest rates and declining political interest in the concept. However for the last three years Dr. Forget has been wading through 2,000 boxes of data from the experiment. The data she is uncovering provides strong evidence that lifting people out of poverty has a remarkable effect on population health, especially with regards to mental health. Surprisingly, taking people out of poverty also reduced accidents and injuries. She also found that families kept their kids in school longer under the guaranteed income program. Given the revival of political interest in the social determinants of health, Dr. Forget’s ongoing research around a 35-year old experiment may pay some social dividends.