Discussion of mental health issues dominated this year’s Region 3 Equity Conference. The theme of the conference was “the many faces of mental health,” a recognition that mental health affects many individuals in the workplace, the union, and in Ontario communities.
Organizers of the conference, held from September 13-15, 2019, worked hard to create a space to talk about mental health in an open and honest way.
The event focused on the following goals and objectives:
- recognize the overt and covert signs of mental health
- challenge the stigmas and be able to talk about mental health issues
- examine the accessibility issues that prevent people from getting much needed services
- explore the overall role that labour unions can play in challenging stigmas
“Cuts to mental health services tell us that mental health isn’t even a priority for the government and so as a union, we have to make it one,” said Sara Labelle, OPSEU’s Regional Vice-President for Region 3. The Ford government has cut mental health funding from $2.1 billion over four years to 1.9 billion over 10 years.
“Indigenous and racialized communities, in particular, already struggle to get the necessary supports, these cuts will only further disadvantage them.” Labelle added.
OPSEU members with knowledge and expertise in the mental health field were brought in to lead the discussions and skills building sessions that were planned on Saturday.
- Cristine Rego is an Indigenous member of OPSEU Local 352. Much of her work has been focused in the area of social justice and trauma, including intergenerational trauma.
- Dr. Zoe Hilton is a psychologist and a steward in OPSEU Local 329 with Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care. She works as a Senior Research Scientist and has studied the experience of PTSD and other mental health concerns as it relates to violence and chronic stressors in the workplace.
- Mary Bloomfield is a nurse at Ontario Shores and is the vice-president of OPSEU Local 331. She fights tirelessly to reduce the stigma that surrounds living with mental health issues.
“We wanted to showcase the depth of knowledge and experience of fellow OPSEU members who currently provide mental health services,” explained Bonnie Eddy, lead conference organizer and Region 3’s representative on OPSEU’s Provincial Women’s Committee (PWC). “The focus from the beginning was to ensure that conference participants were able to benefit from the expertise of their own peers.”
Sunday morning involved working to develop a concrete action plan for participants to take back with them. The general consensus was that as a community, everyone must take an active role to talk about mental health and to debunk its many misconceptions. It was an inspiring conversation that motivated participants to want to challenge the system in the way it treats people who live with it daily, and in particular, individuals from Indigenous and racialized communities.
President Warren (Smokey) Thomas congratulated the participants for another successful conference and thanked Labelle and EBMs Joel Usher and Janel Perron for their ongoing support.
“Mental health issues are among the most important challenges in Ontario workplaces,” said Thomas. “Our union has been at the forefront of raising awareness in Ontario and discussions like these are part of our efforts to put mental health issues on the radar of employers, the government and Ontarians.”