Discovering Hidden Talent: A National Forum for Social Businesses Employing People with Mental Health Problems or Illnesses

On November 25, the Mental Health Commission of Canada hosted a free, one-day, interactive forum on practical tools and resources and innovative practices that promote employment of people living with mental health problems or illnesses. Download the speaker bios and agenda.

Like conventional businesses, social businesses exchange goods and services in the marketplace, but they are organized to achieve social as well as economic goals. In the mental health arena, this includes creating employment opportunities for the almost 90% of Canadians with mental health problems or illness who are unemployed.

This successful forum, held at the Centurion Conference & Event Centre in Ottawa, was attended by more than 80 participants from a variety of sectors, such as:

  • Social businesses employing individuals with mental health problems or illnesses;
  • Policy-makers;
  • People with lived experience of mental illness employed by social businesses;
  • Researchers;
  • Mental health service providers;
  • Key stakeholders and other community champions; and
  • People interested in the field.

To better gauge the value of this first-of-its-kind forum and gather feedback for future events, participants were asked to fill out an evaluation at the close of the event. About half of the participants responded, here are the results:



The forum met expectations

62% Strongly Agreed

38% Agreed

The program was well organized

68% Strongly Agreed

32% Agreed

The topics were relevant

49% Strongly Agreed

51% Agreed

Group discussions were appropriate

50% Strongly Agreed

47% Agreed

Length of group discussions was appropriate

22% Strongly Agreed

64% Agreed

Yes, you expanded your network



Number of new connections made

8% 1-2 new connections; 39% 3-4 new connections; 28% 5-6 new connections, 17% 7-8 new connections, 8% more than 8 new connections

Yes, you had a chance to share



Yes, you discussed barriers



Yes, you learned new practices/tools



Facilitation was appropriate

66% Strongly Agreed

34% Agreed

Facilitation provided opportunities for engagement

70% Strongly Agreed

30% Agreed

People who work are healthier, have higher self-esteem and higher standards of living. For those affected by mental illness who want to work and contribute, one of the biggest barriers to entering the workforce is stigma.

A short report will be released in the New Year and MHCC is currently exploring other ways it can support social businesses and the aspiring workforce.

For more information, contact: Nitika Rewari, Program Manager, Workplace Mental Health, at

The MHCC, in partnership with other businesses, is committed to making impactful social contributions and promoting and sustaining the employment of people with mental health problems or illnesses. This forum was made possible thanks to the contributions of the following sponsors: Government of Canada – Employment and Social Development Canada; Sheridan College; McConnell Foundation; Rise Asset Development; Toronto Enterprise Fund; Air Canada; RBC Foundation; Canadian HR Reporter; Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace; and 3M Canada.