Leadership Action for Excellence, Innovation and Health
(Mental Health in the Workplace)

Introduction

  • I’m delighted to share the podium with my good friend Bill Wilkerson on the topic of mental health in the workplace.  This has been a passion of Bill’s and it has been a treat to work with him on this starting over 15 years ago.
  • Before we get into our topic, let me congratulate last night’s winners of the APEX Awards of Excellence.  Few things are more satisfying than earning the respect and admiration of one’s peers. Kudos to this year’s recipients for your outstanding leadership. 
  • I salute the Association of Professional Executives (APEX) for its work in building bridges of understanding between the Federal Public Service and the Canadian public.
  • L’APEX mérite toutes nos félicitations [pour avoir bâti des ponts entre la fonction publique fédérale et les Canadiens] et pour avoir placé son symposium annuel sous le thème du « Leadership en action – excellence, innovation et santé ». Et particulièrement pour avoir mis l’accent sur la santé mentale en milieu de travail.
  • Ce choix audacieux met en lumière la capacité de votre organisation à suivre les tendances prometteuses ainsi que votre volonté de donner suite à des priorités urgentes.
  • I tip my hat to you for tackling tough issues. And I think we can all agree, few issues are in more urgent need of attention than stress, mental health and harassment in the workplace. That message has come through, loud and clear, in successive Public Service Employee Surveys. 
  • In particular, I would like to thank the Clerk of the Privy Council and his predecessor for their leadership & bold innovative approach

The Challenge

  • As public service leaders, you know – better than most – the tremendous toll mental health problems and illnesses take on federal workplaces.  You see, first hand, how often your employees miss work due to depression and other mental health concerns.
  • Research has put this problem in perspective.  Public servants are off work due to diagnosable mental health problems at a rate 300% higher than the general workforce.  And 48 percent of all disability claims in the federal workplace are due to depression. That’s almost double the rate 20 years ago.
  • These statistics are alarming.  They are much higher than national averages – in a country where mental health issues are a serious challenge across the entire population.
  • It is well know that mental disorders represent upwards of 30 to 40% of disability insurance claims in the private and public sector in this country.  This has been known for years.  The question is: why has this number not been coming down?
  • All told, mental health problems and illnesses represent a substantial cost to the Canadian economy.  The most definitive estimate of the cost impact of depression and anxiety disorders in Canada by MHCC’s Case for Investment is $51B/year with more than half that total relating to lost economic performance.
  • […] Prenons un instant pour mettre ces données en contexte. Actuellement, un Canadien sur 25 souffre d’une maladie du cœur, une affection que nous considérons généralement comme assez répandue. Pourtant, chaque année, un Canadien sur CINQ est aux prises avec un problème de santé mentale ou une maladie mentale. Ce sont 6,7 millions de personnes, ce qui équivaut à la moitié de la population de l’Ontario.
  • Voici une autre statistique troublante. Chaque année, 800 000 Canadiens et Canadiennes âgés de 4 à 17 ans souffrent d’un problème de santé mentale causant du stress et des incapacités, l’équivalent de la population d’une grande ville Canadienne. Ce qu’il faut retenir ici, c’est que 70 % des adultes aux prises avec une maladie mentale ressentent leurs premiers symptômes à cet âge.
  • I’ve been talking a lot about numbers, because, quite frankly, the numbers are the easy part to quantify.  But it’s a lot harder to talk about the human toll.  Yaprak spoke eloquently about that earlier, and my family has felt this deeply as well. My son, Cameron, battled depression for a long time.  In 1995, he died by suicide. He was only 29.
  • But mental illness doesn’t have to equate with hopelessness, as it sadly did for Cameron. We are seeing increasing evidence that the right interventions and supports can produce positive results.
  • La Norme nationale du Canada sur la santé et la sécurité psychologiques en milieu de travail illustre bien [que les interventions et les mesures de soutien appropriées peuvent générer des résultats positifs]. La Norme, première du genre au monde, est chapeautée par la Commission de la santé mentale du Canada, en partenariat avec l’Association canadienne de normalisation et le Bureau de normalisation du Québec. Elle aide les employeurs de toute taille et de tous les secteurs à promouvoir la santé mentale et à prévenir les préjudices psychologiques pouvant être causés par des facteurs liés au travail.
  • You will hear more about the National Workplace Standard in a workshop following my remarks and those of Bill Wilkerson.  This workshop entitled Mental Health and Wellness: Modern Solutions for a 21st Century Challenge outlines progress being made in workplaces across the country.
  • Je suis fier de rappeler que la Commission a entrepris un projet d’étude de cas visant à évaluer les retombées de la Norme. Les résultats préliminaires que nous avons récoltés révèlent que des organisations participantes de toute taille et dans tous les secteurs ont constaté une baisse de l’absentéisme et un engagement accru de leur personnel.
  • Ces résultats encourageants montrent sans équivoque qu’il est dans notre intérêt collectif d’agir dès maintenant, et de le faire avec fermeté.

Why we must act

  • Because you can be sure:  if we don’t, we’ll pay for it later.  The cost will be great.  The incidence of mental illness has been increasing, particularly as the stress levels in our fast changing world intensify.
  • The onus is on those of us here today to make sure that we take steps to reverse this.  And that means stepping up our game, dramatically. If we want to see meaningful change, we have to advocate for – and be ready and able to implement – a range of reforms that touch on mental health.  Something that will require real leadership.
  • Michael Wernick a insisté sur [le besoin d’un leadership fort]. Le rapport du Groupe de travail mixte sur la santé mentale appelle en effet à la création d’une « culture qui inscrit la santé, la sécurité et le bien-être psychologique dans tous les aspects du milieu de travail par la collaboration, l'inclusivité et le respect ».
  • I congratulate the Government of Canada and public service labour groups, particularly the Public Service Alliance of Canada, for establishing the Joint Task Force.  I’m pleased that the MHCC was able to suggest experts as the Task Force was developing its recommendations.  The Commission is keen to support the implementation of these recommendations across the Federal Public Service, based on our unique experience and expertise, as seen in the Standard and its compendium ‘Assembling the Pieces’’.
  • Because the resulting report isn’t just words on paper; it articulates clear recommendations for action.  And it will be up to people like you to lead this process.

The Response

  • Leadership symposia like this one play a critically important role in helping you to respond to the mental health concerns of your employees. 
  • Rather than accepting the premise that public service employees should expect “high stress” to be an intrinsic part of the job, you are here to learn how to make the workplace psychologically safer.
  • This is nothing short of revolutionary. And you are on the right side of progress.
  • L’enjeu du bien-être mental au travail a atteint les plus hauts niveaux de décision. Comme vous le savez, le premier ministre a annoncé que la Norme nationale du Canada sur la santé et la sécurité psychologiques en milieu de travail sera mise en œuvre dans tous les lieux de travail fédéraux. Une telle démonstration de leadership de la part du premier employeur au pays ne peut être que salutaire. De plus, comme le greffier l’a indiqué, c’est de cette façon que pourront être créés des espaces favorisant un dialogue ouvert et exempt de stigmatisation, mettant l’accent sur la prévention des préjudices, la promotion de la santé et la résilience.
  • Au moment de concevoir la Norme, des réactions comme celles-là figuraient parmi nos rêves les plus fous.
  • De voir la Norme mise en application dans plusieurs ministères et agences du gouvernement est à la fois gratifiant et excitant.
  • Et ce n’est là qu’un des secteurs où la situation s’améliore.

Signs of progress

  • Beyond the workplace, I can point to progress in a broad range of areas where Canadians are mobilizing the MHCC’s Mental Health Strategy for Canada to “change directions and change lives.” 
  • In the last year alone, the MHCC’s Youth Council developed an adapted version of the Mental Health Strategy for Canada that reflects the realities of young Canadians.  It draws on their personal experiences and makes The Strategy more relevant and accessible to young people.
  • Some of those lessons are being applied through initiatives like the national youth anti-stigma campaign, HEADSTRONG/ La Tête Haute, working with community organizations, schools and youth aged 14–18 across the country.
  • Last year, HEADSTRONG engaged more than 4,000 students from over 400 high schools helping them to become youth mental health champions in their schools, touching more than 180,000 students.
  • Another program, Road to Mental Readiness, is proving to be beneficial in supporting police and other first responders. They operate in high-stress occupations and often deal with mental health challenges of their own.  Virtually every major police force across Canada is now employing it.
  • This is in addition to our Mental Health First Aid programme, which has trained more than 160,000 Canadians to date, including training modules for populations at high risk, such as First Nations, Inuit and seniors, and soon to broaden to better serve our veterans.
  • Last fall, the MHCC hosted the first ever Mental Health First Aid International Summit, which brought together Mental Health First Aid leaders from eight countries to share best practices and experiences.
  • Particularly satisfying, we wrapped up the very successful five-year At Home/Chez Soi project. Each year, up to 200,000 people are homeless in Canada at an estimated cost of seven billion dollars. Homelessness and mental illness go hand in hand.
  • Our project worked quickly to end homelessness for people living with serious mental illness. It is a sound investment, with every $10 invested in Housing First services resulting in an average savings of $9.60 for participants with high needs.
  • This Housing First programme developed training and technical assistance programs to help communities implement the program. And, to illustrate the Commission’s unique role, we formalized an agreement to transition the initiative to the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness.  This will ensure that communities currently involved in the program will be able to continue accessing the exceptional resources and supports required to implement a Housing First approach.
  • The Mental Health Commission is only nine years old.  This record of achievement and impact clearly demonstrate that it is touching and improving the lives of many Canadians.
  • I suspect much of this activity impacts on your own work, because mental health touches so many jurisdictions.
  • In fact, chances are, many of you work for departments and agencies that now have a mandate to take action on mental health. The Prime Minister identified mental health as a priority in no less than five Ministerial mandate letters.
  • La Commission se réjouit de la vision claire et définie du premier ministre en matière d’amélioration des services et des soins de santé mentale pour les Canadiens et les Canadiennes. Nous sommes également très encouragés du fait que la santé mentale ne relève plus exclusivement du ministre de la Santé.
  • Les progrès en matière de santé mentale s’étendent à des portefeuilles partout au sein du gouvernement, allant du trouble de stress post-traumatique chez les anciens combattants et les premiers intervenants aux réactions culturellement inappropriées face aux besoins pressants des communautés autochtones, en passant par le financement accru de la recherche sur les interventions efficaces.
  • À ce jour, la Commission a travaillé avec plus d’une douzaine de ministères et de directions afin de les sensibiliser à la santé mentale en milieu de travail et de leur faire connaître des pratiques prometteuses susceptibles de créer un environnement plus sain dans notre fonction publique.

Call to Action

  • But you don’t need to wait for the MHCC to become involved in your organization, or work in a department mandated to take action on mental health, to make a difference.
  • As the Joint Task Force report underlined, “This obligation belongs to every individual in the workplace.”
  • J’applaudis tous ceux et celles d’entre vous qui se lèvent pour hausser le profil de la santé mentale et promouvoir des mesures plus musclées au sein de vos sphères d’influence.
  • Par vos paroles – et plus encore par vos gestes –, vous démontrez que nous faisons tous partie de la solution dont notre pays a si grand besoin. Cette conférence vient appuyer vos efforts, mais aussi s’en inspirer.
  • En prêchant par l’exemple, en créant des espaces favorisant la santé et la sécurité psychologiques, nous lancerons le dialogue sur les enjeux de santé mentale au travail.
  • Et cette ouverture fera naître la compassion, le respect et le civisme dans nos milieux de travail.
  • And be sure to take care of yourself, addressing your own mental health needs too.
  • Over and above federal job sites, I urge you to use your power as leaders within your individual organizations and collectively as an Association to help all Canadians.
  • Motivate Parliamentarians and your stakeholders across all sectors of society to learn more, to care more and to invest more to tackle the enormous mental health challenges facing our country today.
  • Clearly, government and the public service cannot address these challenges single-handedly.  But there is no question that “Leadership in Action – Promoting Excellence, Innovation and Health” – can have a profound impact.
  • Ultimately, none of us can stand by as a silent onlooker when mental health problems are nearing crisis proportions.  It is incumbent on all of us to speak up and send a clear message that the status quo just won’t do anymore.
  • No matter what our job description or pay scale, each and every one of us can and must help, whenever and however we can.
  • I am confident that, given your demonstrated leadership, together we will make measurable progress as we move forward on that path.  I look forward to working with you, and learning from you, as we do. 

Thank you