Fixing the Three-legged Stool – Mental Illness, Stigma and Employment

This week I read an astonishing media article, ‘Stigma surrounding mental illness major barrier for employment: report’ I was shocked to read that 90% of Canadians with serious mental illness are unemployed. Such a high number leads to questions about ‘how workplaces support mentally ill employees?’ and ‘what are the policy levers that support both individuals and workplaces?’.

We often hear about the stigma of mental illness, the pervasive fear of an illness that cannot be seen, that employees are much more likely to report and seek support for physical chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer, but stay quiet about their mental health. Where does this leave people with mental illness when our identities and self-worth are so tied to what we do?

This quote from Patrick Dion, Vice-Chairman of the Mental Health Commission of Canada says it all:

“It’s astonishing that 90 per cent of the mentally ill are unemployed. Our lives are a three-legged stool – a home, a job and a friend – and so if that job leg isn’t there, the journey to recovery is made that much more difficult.”

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week world-wide, a time when workplaces can look to their own practices and review the supports they provide or what they could be providing. The Canadian website shares real stories that put face to mental illness.

A number of new policies and programs have come out in the last two years to provide better guidance for workplace mental health. Here’s a list of places to start investigating:

Awareness is only the beginning of creating workplaces where we can all thrive. Looking at the statistics, it’s clear that Canadian workplaces need to move further.

Samantha Hartley-Folz
Manager, Policy and Programs
October 2013

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