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It’s Mental Health Week: Make your voice heard

OPSEU Mental Health Division

A message to OPSEU members in the mental health sector

The election is coming

May 7 to 13 is Mental Health Week and Children’s Mental Health Week. Marking these events is especially appropriate this year as Ontarians vote in the most significant election of our time.

That’s why it’s vital we assess Ontario’s mental health system and use the election to push for urgently needed improvement.

“Of the 155,000 members OPSEU represents,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas, “some 8,000 work in the mental health sector and tens of thousands more work with people with mental illness. Together, we’ve got the power to shape this election – but on one condition: We all need to get informed, to inform and to vote!

“Elections are the one time politicians are forced to go to the people and listen,” Thomas continued. “Don’t pass up this rare chance to tell them how government has utterly failed mental health workers and patients – and what they need to do to fix the system.

“If you won’t do it, who will?”

So what do I do?

  • Attend all-candidates’ meetings and ask the hard questions.
  • Contact the candidates in your riding (available from May 9) to ask them how they plan to help rebuild the mental health care system.
  • Ask the candidates questions on social media platforms, like Facebook and Twitter.
  • Share OPSEU’s election platform with other members in your local/workplace.

What are the key priorities?

OPSEU’s Mental Health Division is focusing on three key priorities during the election.

  1. Improving planning and decision-making – which must include input from frontline mental health sector workers;
  2. Improving workplace health and safety for staff and patients, for example:
  • funding self-defence training for all staff;
  • implementing violence, aggression and response behaviours tools (VARB) to identify gaps in anti-violence measures and procedures; and
  • amending the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act to bring health care workers under the presumptive legislation with respect to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  1. Increasing base budget funding for mental health services across all sectors, for example, providing funding for mandatory staffing levels for all workers.

Here’s how to frame your questions

  1. Make your questions personal. Remember, the best questions tie broader issues to personal experience.
  2. Relax! You know a lot more about the issues than they do.
  3. Ask for a detailed plan: concrete steps and timelines. Write down their commitments.
  4. Ask if they’ll meet with you and/or Mental Health Division representatives within five months of being elected.

The chairs speak

Ed Arvelin, chair of the Mental Health Division, underscored the vital importance of using the election to advance the quality of mental health care in Ontario – for both adults and children – and to improve the working conditions of mental health workers.

“As President Thomas noted, we are 8,000 strong. If only 10 of us contacted each candidate in every riding and at least one of us asked a question at every all-candidates’ meeting, mental health issues would be put on the front burner – where they belong.

“This is our moment. I know you’re extremely busy, but an opportunity to get politicians’ ear in this way comes but once every four years. Make this election about you and your clients.”

Deborah Gordon, chair of OPSEU’s Child Treatment Sector, noted that all three major political parties have promised significant investments to the mental health sector.

“Community-based children’s mental health services have not seen a single base budget increase in 12 years. So I’m pleased that the major political players recognize the urgent need for enhanced funding.

“Unfortunately, the community-based budget promises made by the three parties are modest at best,” she noted. “There has to be a significant and sustained re-commitment after years of neglect, even as the demand for services continues to grow.”

Join us for TalkON

Tomorrow, May 8, from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., is TalkON, OPSEU’s interactive teletown hall. Be sure to join us! This will be the launch of OPSEU’s #VoteBetter election platform.

You can also text votebetter to 647-933-2323 for more info and to receive a direct link to join TalkON.