Ottawa, Ontario | Wednesday, October 9, 2013 |

Up to 90 per cent of Canadians living with serious mental illnesses are unemployed. This is Canada’s Aspiring Workforce; people with the skills and abilities so needed by employers in today’s economy.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) is marking Mental Illness Awareness Week* (October 6 – 12) with the release of several research-based and implementable recommendations to strengthen employment support for Canadians with serious mental illness.

“Some employers are reluctant to hire people with mental illness, in many cases due to the stigma associated with it,” says Louise Bradley, MHCC President and CEO. “With a job, these individuals would be healthier, have higher self-esteem, have a higher standard of living and contribute more to the economy.”

The Aspiring Workforce consists of people with a serious mental illness who have been unable to enter the workforce, have been in and out of the workforce, or are attempting to return to work after being away for a lengthy period of time.

Stigma, discrimination, inflexible disability income polices, and inadequate support for people finding and keeping a job are some of the reasons Canada’s Aspiring Workforce is being largely left out of the employment equation. The Aspiring Workforce Report—produced in collaboration with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), the University of Toronto, and Queen’s University—provides several recommendations to help policy makers, governments, and employers strengthen workplace support for Canadians with serious mental illness.

The recommendations include ensuring supported employment programs that help people find and keep jobs are well-matched to interests and career goals; the development of a formal network to advance the development, growth, and legitimacy of social businesses for people with mental illnesses; changes to disability support policies to provide flexibility that recognizes individuals with mental health issues often have intermittent work capacity; and, increasing the Aspiring Workforce’s ‘workplace know-how’, including everything from better understanding their human rights to improving the knowledge and understanding of the symptoms of their illness.

“As the labour market for both skilled and non-skilled employees continues to decline, as predicted, it will become critical for businesses to tap into under-employed groups within the Canadian population,” says Andrea Payne, Human Resources Manager at J.E. Agnew Food Services Ltd., which operate 18 Tim Hortons restaurants. “At Tim Hortons in Kingston, partnering with community organizations such as Frontenac Community Mental Health & Addictions Services, has made this not only possible, but extremely successful for all parties.”

Bradley also encourages more workplaces to become familiar the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace to prevent psychological harm and promote wellbeing of all employees. Mental Health First Aid courses are also available to provide the skills and knowledge to help people better manage potential or developing mental health problems.

The Aspiring Workforce Report aligns with the recommendations in the Mental Health Strategy for Canada, the MHCC’s blueprint to promote better mental health, prevent mental illness, and ensure that services and supports are there for people who need them. Specifically, the Aspiring Workforce Report aligns with the Strategy’s recommendation to enhance supports for people living with mental health problems and illnesses to pursue education and work, make disability benefit programs more adaptable, and remove financial disincentives that hinder a return to work or school.

*organized annually in Canada by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health


The Mental Health Commission of Canada is a catalyst for change. We are collaborating with hundreds of partners to change the attitudes of Canadians toward mental health problems and to improve services and support. Our goal is to help people who live with mental health problems and illnesses lead meaningful and productive lives. Together we create change.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada is funded by Health Canada.


Kyle Marr, Senior Communications Specialist
Mental Health Commission of Canada
Office: 403-385‐4050
Mobile: 587-226‐8782

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The views represented herein solely represent the views of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Production of this document is made possible through a financial contribution from Health Canada.