October 10, 2017 marks the 25th anniversary of World Mental Health Day. This year’s theme, from the World Health Organization (WHO), is “Mental health in the workplace.”
Workplace mental health is a huge problem worldwide. Here in Canada, the cost of workplace-related mental illness on the Canadian economy is staggering. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), a world-renowned treatment centre in Toronto where more than 1,500 OPSEU members work, estimates that each week more than 500,000 Canadians are unable to go to work on account of mental health issues. The impact on our national economy is estimated at $51 billion annually.
But mental health is not merely a question of dollars and cents. Difficult working environments can trigger anxiety, depression, and other conditions which can lead to addiction, relationship problems, and even suicide. Mental health is the leading cause of disability in Canada, accounting for about one-third of disability claims.
“Work is good for mental health but a negative working environment can lead to physical and mental health problems,” WHO says.
Employers have a responsibility to create supportive working environments in which the mental health of workers is protected; unions have a responsibility to make sure they do.
In this regard, our union is a leader in workplace mental health. For example, on October 17, our Mental Health Division will host a major lobby day at Queen’s Park. A key issue for discussion with MPPs will be the violence that occurs in mental health facilities and the way in which that violence takes a toll on not only workers’ bodies, but their minds as well.
Each of us know of a loved one, a family member or a friend who has faced mental health issues in their lives — CAMH estimates that number at one in five Canadians. In many cases, those issues are related to workplace factors. This year, on the occasion of World Mental Health Day, I encourage all OPSEU members to support our efforts to help create safe and healthy workplaces where all workers can be their best.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union