09/05/2014 01:25 EDT | Updated 11/05/2014 05:59 EST

Workplaces Must Shift Their Thinking About Mental Health


This post is part of a series from G(irls)20 partners, speakers and delegates in the lead up to the G20 Leader's Summit in November 2014. G20 Leaders are charged with reaching a 2 per cent growth rate and have invited organizations like G(irls)20 to make recommendations for reaching this target. While not on the G20 Leader's agenda, G(irls)20 shares the view of the ILO and OECD that addressing mental health is necessary for a strong and healthy workforce which is required for a growing economy.

G(irls)20 is pleased to feature this post by Dr. Catherine Zahn, President and CEO, CAMH, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health on the importance of Workplace Mental Health.

In Canada, mental illness carries a cost to the economy of over $50 billion annually. The number of people missing work due to a mental illness is 500,000 on any given day. For good reason, these numbers have the attention of our corporate leaders. There is a straight line between the health and well-being of citizens and the performance of an economy. It's time that the mental health and well-being of citizens is on the agenda of political leaders around the globe.

For some, work brings a sense of identity or accomplishment, for others it's a way to make ends meet. Meaningful employment is a social determinant of health, and plays an important role in maintaining health and well-being for people with mental illness.

Unfortunately, many of them struggle to find and maintain employment, leading to delayed recovery, deterioration in health status and increased cost to society.

There are important questions to be answered: How do we create a work environment that's safe for discussions of stress and vulnerability? How do we develop the accommodations to which people with mental as well as physical disabilities have a right? How can our workplaces contribute to reducing disability due to mental illness? How do we help those with complex mental illness to find and keep work? Tough issues, but with investment in three key areas we can begin to make a difference.

1) We can shift our thinking about the employability of people with mental illness. We need leaders who recognize the abilities of people with mental illness and embrace their contributions to the workplace.

2) We must invest in employment supports that provide people with a range of vocational strategies and job options. People with complex mental illness such as schizophrenia need targeted supports to find and maintain work.

3) Mental health and business leaders need to develop a labour market strategy that creates and sustains jobs for people with mental illness.

When people with mental illness work in supportive environments their quality of life improves, use of hospital and health service resources decrease and their reliance on disability income is mitigated. Individuals, workplaces and societies benefit when we invest in mental health. I'm calling on leaders from all sectors to invest in all of their workforce, in all of our citizens -- including those with a disability.

Dr. Catherine Zahn

President and CEO

CAMH, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health


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