Dear Stephen Harper
Mental Health Crisis in Canada
On World Mental Health Day, PSAC would like you to redouble your efforts to address the mental health crisis in Canada and long-standing issues related to mental health in the federal public service.
Rates of disability due to mental health conditions in Canada are soaring and continue to rise. The numbers speak for themselves. Research shows:
- Half of all Canadians will experience a serious mental health problem during their lifetime.1
- In any given year, 1 in 5 people are suffering from a mental health disability2.
- The World Health Organization estimates that depression will be the number one cause of disability in both the developed and developing worlds by 2030.3
In 2006, a Senate report titled Out of the Shadows at Last: Transforming Mental Health, Mental Illness and Addiction Service in Canada (the “Kirby Report”) made some very important recommendations. Few of them have been implemented.
Five years later, the situation has not improved for people living with mental health disabilities in Canada.
People are starting to talk about mental health issues – in workplaces and communities, as well as in the media. But mental health disabilities still carry tremendous stigma. This prevents people from seeking help and robs them of their ability to live and work with dignity.
A crisis situation
The mental health system is in crisis in Canada. Many people with mental health disabilities find themselves without adequate care. Too many end up falling through the cracks, forgotten and marginalized in our society.
A lack of adequate support, coupled with discrimination and stigma are more likely to prevent a person with a mental health disability from participating and engaging in their workplaces and communities than the disability itself.
Now is not the time to reduce public services, especially when investments in health care and social services are needed to improve supports for people with mental health disabilities.
Governments must also consider the impact on public service workers when proposing spending cuts. According to Bill Wilkerson, co-founder of the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Illness, “There is a real danger of more damage if the government opts for across-the-board cuts as it seeks to reduce spending.”
This approach "undermines emotional stability, it undermines employee resilience, it creates a kind of perpetual sense of uncertainty on a day-to-day basis," creating "the building blocks for a psychologically unhealthy workplace."4
Mental health in the workplace
The mental health crisis is affecting our workplaces more than ever. In the federal public service, almost half of the long term disability claims in 2010 were due to mental health disabilities, continuing an upward trend that has been evident for many years5. A 2010 survey by the Desjardins Group found that 30 per cent of Canadian workers were feeling more stress than they reported the year before6. Many workers identify increasing stress in the workplace due to work overload, negative work environment, harassment and discrimination, poor work-life balance and job insecurity.
Employers are not adequately addressing this issue and their approaches vary. Many focus on “wellness” programs or “disability management” programs, placing the responsibility on the worker and failing to address the roles and responsibilities of the employer. These programs tend to exist in a vacuum, ignoring the role of the workplace environment on workers' mental health and obligations under human rights laws to accommodate workers with disabilities.
More needs to be done to address this crisis now. Programs and policies should be strong, mandatory, and well-resourced.
PSAC calls on all levels of government and employers across Canada to take action now.
To Prime Minister Stephen Harper:
- Implement the Kirby Report recommendations, supported by adequate funding and resources.
- Establish the Mental Health Transition Fund, Mental Health Housing Initiative, the nation-wide supported employment program, and the Kirby Report recommendations with respect to Aboriginal peoples.
- Implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
To Treasury Board President Tony Clement, Chief Human Resources Officer Daphne Meredith, and human resources managers in public and private sector workplaces across Canada:
- Consider the impacts of potential spending cuts, both on vital services to the public and on the mental health of public sector workers who deliver those important services.
- Perform an audit of your workplace environments and workplace culture to ensure that workers aren't getting sick due to conditions at work.
- Put health and safety committees in place to address both physical and psychological health and safety.
- Create and implement strong policies on the duty to accommodate with specific references to accommodating mental health disabilities.
- Explore the feasibility of peer support programs and provide training for workers and managers on mental health first aid.
- Evaluate benefits packages to include benefits for psychologists, social workers and other health care providers.
- Ensure that long term disability plans do not exclude or restrict access to people with episodic disabilities.
- Implement policies to prevent and address incidents of harassment, bullying and discrimination in the workplace.
- Treasury Board should immediately implement recommendations 84 and 85 of the Kirby Report.
To the provincial and territorial premiers, Ministers of Health and Ministers of Labour:
- Implement the Kirby report recommendations.
- Increase investments in mental health care and public services.
- Improve workers compensation legislation and policies to ensure that workers compensation boards recognize occupational stress claims.
We hope you respond to these recommendations to truly address the mental health crisis in Canada.
1 Mental Health Commission of Canada; Conference Board of Canada, Building Mentally Healthy Workplaces, June 2011
2 Mental Health Commission of Canada
3 World Health Organisation (2008) The Global Burden of Disease: 2004 Update, Geneva, Switzerland
4 “PS Disability Claims Soaring”, Ottawa Citizen, June 28, 2011
5 Claims Incidence for Federal Disability Insurance Plan, 1990-2010
6 “Canadian workers feel more stressed and less appreciated, Desjardins Financial Security National Survey on Canadian Health finds” http://www.desjardins.com/en/a_propos/salle_presse/la_une/communiques/2010090801.jsp
Date Modified : 2011/11/16