When will we address work-place mental health?

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In these past two years of pandemic and its mental health consequences, employers have offered webinars and mandatory training sessions on mental health in the workplace. Mental health has become a common theme on Canadian corporate and academic websites. The subject has been discussed so often that people now know enough about mental health that when they find symptoms in themselves, they ask for help. Well done so far, but what happens when someone does find that he/she needs help? How much help is actually provided to that productive member of society?

Google the word “suicide” and you will find many help-line phone numbers, yet some of these crisis lines have only business hours, and, here in Quebec, some offer service only in French, otherwise providing numbers for a third-party provider for service in English.(Based on my experience calling Talk Suicide Canada a few times).

Are we really expecting a person in crisis to call around to find someone, when they need immediate help? If a person calls the hospital for help, can he/she be sure that the request will remain confidential and will not affect them professionally? Many remain fearful of losing their jobs and future job opportunities if they ask for help. Why do supposed “strict policies of confidentiality” fail to reassure citizens that they can seek help without any fear of being blacklisted?

This is alongside the well-known shortage of, and long waiting lists for, mental health services and therapists in the public sector.

These basic problems exist alongside other, deeper consequences that reveal the gaps in how we address mental health concerns — such as leave, financial support, or even of accusations of lying for time-off. Workplace history supports the fear that a doctor’s note about any mental health issue would be of concern to employers. Why are such notes still used as red flags or as justification for pushing out veteran employees? What legal recourse do these people have? Granted, “stress leaves” and such are occasionally misused by employees, but the bigger and very-real concerns still exist among Canadian employees, even government employees, and the usual delays in and promises to address such issues can compound employee burnout.

Internationally recognized as working to provide work-life balance for its citizens, Canada attracts many well-trained immigrants who seek a healthier life. As we try to attract professionals, we should also be trying to end these ugly excesses of the capitalist system here. We must honour our social commitment to protect employees and prevent them from becoming disposable cogs in our economy by ignoring their health. And what better action than to actually invest more in mental health services and therapies — right here in our home region?