Mental Health Commision of Canada president Louise Bradley talks at the Sarnia Riding Club about mental health in the workplace. Her talk was part of a 338 Conversations challenge event, hosted by Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu. Tyler Kula/Postmedia Network
A challenge to help champion better workplace mental health across Canada was met in Sarnia on June 21.
Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu was the host to about 30 business and mental health officials at the Sarnia Riding Club, where Mental Health Commission of Canada president Louise Bradley talked about the importance of respect, civility and support in workplaces for employees contending with mental illness.
“It’s a topic I think has been ignored for a long time, but I think we’re finally turning on the light switch,” said Bradley, noting 500,000 people in Canada miss work every week due to a mental health problem or illness.
Those aren’t the same people every week, she said.
Creating healthy, supportive workplaces where people aren’t bullied or harassed for mental illness – and are made to feel as comfortable to talk about and seek help for mental illnesses as they do for physical ailments, Bradley said – makes an impact on reducing the estimated $51-billion per year in lost productivity associated with workplace mental illness, but more importantly makes things better for people and their families, Gladu said.
The mental health commission released the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, the only one of its kind in the world, in 2013 to help guide employers.
Recommendations stemming from it include employers having employee assistance plans to support mental wellness.
The commission, in partnership with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, launched the 338 Conversations challenge earlier this year, for all 338 members of parliament to spark talks about workplace mental health in their home communities, to spread the message and help encourage change, Bradley said.
“We felt that parliamentarians were well placed to bring this directly into communities right across the country,” she said.
“And Marilyn Gladu was the first one to take up the challenge.”
Progress over the last 10 years has been made, in terms of recognizing post-traumatic stress disorder as a job hazard for first responders, she said, and in talking about mental health more in general.
But more work is needed, she said.
People can live with mental illness and be healthy, productive members of society, she said, much like someone with diabetes or any other chronic disease.
Nine in 10 people with schizophrenia, she said, are unemployed or underemployed, and there’s no reason for that.
Meanwhile just one in six children in Canada receive the mental health help they need, she said, in part because many parents don’t admit there are problems.
That has to change, she said, calling wellness at work a revolutionary idea.
“We think by having this conversation in the 338 ridings across the nation … we can raise awareness of the issue, which will reduce stigma,” Gladu said.