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A week to recognize mental health workers

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Dear friends:

On behalf of OPSEU’s Executive Board, it is my privilege to pay tribute to our 7,000 mental health workers in hospitals, community agencies, correctional services and crisis homes on the occasion of Mental Health Week in Canada, May 1-7.

No Canadian has been untouched by the impact of mental illness, either on themselves or on a person close to them. According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), which employs more than 1,500 OPSEU members, 20 per cent of all Canadians will personally experience a mental health issue in their lifetime. Age, occupation or educational status provide no exemption from the illness. It’s estimated that the cost of mental health issues on the national economy amounts to almost $8 billion — $4.7 billion in care, and $3.2 billion in disability and early death.

It saddens me then to say that mental health workers don’t receive the full credit they deserve as health care practitioners. Every day they must demonstrate extraordinary patience, compassion, care and professionalism. At times, inside mental health care facilities, they must exercise physical strength to protect their patients and themselves.

Hardly a day goes by somewhere in Ontario when a mental health care worker, or a patient, does not find themselves a victim of needless violence. Last year at the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care in Penetanguishene, several of our members were seriously injured in a series of attacks. That’s not the exception; that’s the rule – and it must stop at every mental health facility in the province.

“Get Loud” is the theme adopted by the Canadian Mental Health Association to mark this week. Getting loud is a tactic that OPSEU mental health care workers have practiced for years in their campaign to build harm-free workplaces.

OPSEU has been a leader in demanding that all workplaces obey the rules of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). Last October, our mental health care leaders met to learn how to make the OHSA work for their members. Their activity continues this year after our Executive Board approved a host of activities – facility safety tours, letter-writing campaign, media events and more – that will culminate in a Day of Action at Queen’s Park on October 10, World Mental Health Day.

I’ve worked for many years in a psychiatric facility. I know firsthand the dangers. But I also know the immense rewards for helping those with debilitating mental illness become healthy again. On this special week for mental health care workers, all of OPSEU says “thank you” for your exemplary service to our province.

In solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union