Speaking notes for
President and CEO
Mental Health Commission of Canada
For delivery at the
Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Panel Discussion
Enhancing Multisectoral Collaboration
to Support HAP2020/SDG Health
August 22, 2016
I am delighted to join my esteemed colleagues to compare notes on our progress in advancing mental health programming in our respective countries. What a wonderful opportunity to learn from one another’s progress as we strive to realize the Healthy Asia Pacific 2020 goals, which were set in Beijing in 2014.1
Among other things, health ministers agreed to encourage multi-sectoral action in health policy, development, implementation and evaluation. This is a commitment that the Mental Health Commission of Canada has taken to heart.
I want to pick up where I left off two years ago. But before I do, I would be remiss if I didn’t praise APEC for making the important decision to prioritize mental wellness through its Mental Health Task Force and the ‘Roadmap to Promote Mental Wellness in a Healthy Asia Pacific.’
Specifically, I am delighted that Canada is leading the development of the Digital Hub. I’m certain this will generate compelling evidence of multi-sectoral partnerships to address mental health – including key actions to achieve improved overall health and increased economic productivity.
In the meantime, I’d like to quickly remind you of where we were two years ago.
In Beijing, I highlighted Canada’s efforts to improve mental health in the workplace. When you consider that two-thirds of Canadians spend 60 percent of their time at work, it’s easy to understand why this is so important.
I profiled our groundbreaking initiative known as the National Standard on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace – the first of its kind in the world. We call it the Standard, for short.
I won’t repeat my speech from 2014, I promise! But, for those unfamiliar with this program, I’ll provide a little background before I get to the breaking news.
The Standard is an entirely voluntary initiative that provides guidelines, tools and resources to help organizations of all sizes – in all sectors – to promote good mental health and prevent psychological harm.
We chose to focus on the workplace because, in any given week, 500,000 people in Canada are unable to do their jobs due to mental health problems or illnesses. Mental illness costs the Canadian economy over $50 Billion a year.
We’re not alone, of course. On average, employees around the world lose almost 11 days of work every year as a result of mental health problems and illnesses.
Creating safe workplaces, where people can discuss mental health concerns, is transformative – a huge attitudinal shift that brings mental health problems and illnesses into the mainstream conversation. And one that puts mental wellness at the heart of our daily social interactions.
There’s probably not a single workplace that would not benefit from the Standard – including Mental Health Commissions.
I can attest, from my own experience, that no worksite is immune to stigma and discrimination. Not long ago, a colleague came to talk to me about her mental health problem. She returned not long after to ask if I now felt differently about her… If that’s happening to a fellow mental health worker, it makes me shudder to think what it must be like in the general workforce.
Don’t get me wrong. The workplace is not always part of the problem. But I believe, no matter where in the world you live and work, it can always be part of the solution.
Background on the Standard
The Standard itself is a shining example of multi-sectoral collaboration. While the Canadian Commission served as a national champion and catalyst for the initiative by providing seed money, the Standard is the result of teamwork by several federal government departments and multiple private sector and non-governmental partners.
The Standard is built on the premise that mental illness is one of the most common forms of illness in modern society. One that often strikes young adults during their peak productive years. And one that carries the double burden of symptoms and stigma – which can discourage people from seeking support, and jeopardize their potential for recovery.
The Standard recognizes that businesses and non-governmental organizations have a corporate and social responsibility to preserve and protect the mental health of their employees. Implementing the Standard can help to fulfill these responsibilities. At the same time, it can improve an organization’s productivity as well as its financial performance, risk management, recruitment and retention.
Similar in spirit to how physical health and safety is managed, the Standard offers a systematic and sustainable approach to psychological health and safety. It can be applied no matter where people work – whether in an office, as a first-responder, in a power plant, hospital, a small family-run business or within the public service.
And that’s precisely where the Standard is being applied – across a wide swath of the Canadian economy.
Due to the strength of our domestic and international partnerships, we are seeing the program adopted in workplaces across Canada and around the world. And we’re starting to observe positive results from these interventions that benefit workers and employers alike.
Perhaps the surest sign of progress is the fact that mental health has become a priority for Canada’s federal government – also Canada’s single largest employer, with over 250,000 workers.
The Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, has directed his Cabinet Ministers and the head of the public service to implement the Standard in all federal worksites. Furthermore, a strategy has been developed that will tie performance to psychological health and safety – across the federal public service.
In the two short years since our meeting, Canada has taken giant strides. The Government of Canada is just one of many employers seizing the potential of the Standard to improve workplace wellness. We’ve had 30,000 unique downloads of the Standard from our website.
It’s interesting to note that the healthcare, education, judicial and policing sectors are among the most active information seekers. In fact, we’ve gone on to partner with many of these sectors to identify opportunities to share our knowledge and resources or develop targeted initiatives.
As a registered nurse, and former hospital administrator, I’m very gratified to see the exceptional interest the healthcare sector is expressing in the Standard.
Healthcare employees have surpassed every other sector when it comes to downloading the Standard.
This may well be because healthcare workers are one and a half times more likely to be off work due to illness or disability than people in all other sectors. But it also signals that healthcare organizations are recognizing the importance of building a productive workforce capable of caring for our population.
Working closely with an organization called HealthCareCAN – a federation of provincial and territorial health care organizations – we’ve undertaken several initiatives to improve our understanding of the challenges confronting healthcare workers so we can tailor solutions specific to their needs. Among these, the MHCC has put together the first national collaborative “by health, for health” comprised of leading healthcare groups across Canada.
The healthcare community of practice brings together 23 organizations to share best practices and promote the widespread adoption of the Standard. This community of practice is not only the first collaborative of its kind in Canada, but also the world.
Under this initiative, we’ve enlisted champions already using the Standard to serve as mentors to those organizations beginning the journey. Down the road, we intend to develop a customized guide to assist healthcare providers to promote and protect the psychological health and safety of their workers.
Another front-line occupation we’ve focused on is first responders such as police officers, paramedics and firefighters. These professionals operate in high-stress situations and often deal with mental health challenges of their own.
While post-traumatic stress disorder is perhaps the most recognized occupational hazard, in reality, the mental health concerns experienced by first responders are varied and complex, ranging from depression and anxiety, to substance misuse and marital challenges.
I’m pleased to tell you that the Commission has concrete evidence, and examples, of how mental health education, awareness and training have been working well within first responder settings.
The Road to Mental Readiness, for example, is a program aimed to reduce stigma and build resilience specifically among first responders. It provides a shared language and a common understanding of the challenges that grow from traumatic experiences. It also offers a platform from which to talk about them.
Granted, talking about PTSD and other mental health challenges isn’t a solution. But it’s a big part of finding one.
There is widespread interest in this training, with virtually every major police force across Canada now using the program. Nearly 24,000 first responders, in all, have been trained in the Road to Mental Readiness program across Canada thus far.
These efforts complement Mental Health First Aid. Similar to physical first aid, this program provides the training required to respond appropriately when an individual is experiencing a mental health problem or crisis. Mental Health First Aid has been delivered to nearly 200,000 Canadians to date – with many employer sponsored sessions. We’ve also adapted this program to address the needs of various populations at high risk in Canada, including Indigenous peoples, seniors and veterans.
Taken together, these meaningful efforts are improving, if not saving, lives.
In 2014, the Mental Health Commission of Canada undertook a Case Study to prove the efficacy of the Standard. The three year study is following 40 diverse organizations that have adopted the Standard.
Its purpose is to identify barriers to implementation, as well as gaps and challenges, so we can circumvent potential problems.
Early findings are demonstrating that the Standard can make a meaningful – and measurable – difference.
For example, one of the largest hospitals in the City of Toronto reports a seven percent decrease in overall healthcare costs and a decrease in days absent from more than ten in 2008, to less than seven in 2014.
Nav Canada, our air traffic control company, has lowered short-term disability rates by 20% and long term disability claims by 10%. It also reports a 100% return to work rate for those off due to mental health reasons, with 95% of those individuals demonstrating a sustained recovery.
Evidence generated from the case study is quickly being put to work. We’ve developed several employer friendly tools based on the knowledge we’ve gained. These include an implementation guide, videos on the 13 factors that promote workplace wellness, and e-learning tools for HR professionals and employees.
What’s truly inspiring is that a lot of formal and informal communities of practice have developed at the municipal and regional levels.
Given this response, the Case Study has attracted widespread interest. To date, more than 120 significant events have showcased the Case Study results. We’ve reached 4,000 people via webinars, and established 30 unique projects with key associations and influencers to help drive widespread adoption. We’ve also distributed more than 5,000 implementation guides, not only in Canada and around the world.
Understanding that mental health issues are a shared challenge and joint responsibility, our commitment to collaboration extends beyond Canada’s borders.
While our countries are different in many ways, they have a lot in common when it comes to mental health.
Last September, the Commission hosted a workplace match with six other countries to share our leading-edge work on the Standard and the ensuing Case Study project.
We are currently working with Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, the UK and USA to share findings from the project. A group in Australia has already taken the Standard and tailored it to the legal sector, garnering more than 150 signatories among legal firms and organizations.
At last count, over 15 countries have shown significance interest in the Standard.
What has me particularly excited is that interest in our work is growing to reflect society’s increased focus on mental health. For instance, in April, Canada’s
Finance Minister highlighted Canada’s leadership in workplace mental health in a speech to a joint meeting of the World Bank and the World Health Organization.
And the World Economic Forum just released its guide on workplace mental health, and asked that one of the case studies be the Canadian representative.
Healthy Asia-Pacific 2020
While made-in-Canada, the Standard offers an option for all countries to explore as they examine the intersection between health and the economy.
The Standard responds to both priorities as it engages the key engines of the economy – employers – by protecting and improving the mental health and wellness of their workers.
This is in keeping with a priority identified in APEC’s Roadmap to Promote Mental Wellness in a Healthy Asia Pacific 2020. Its whole of society approach empowers individuals and communities, including employers, to participate in health education, health literacy, training and knowledge dissemination.
The Standard can also help advance the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals by “Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages.”
Reducing the burden of mental illness in the workplace and in society in general will inevitably have a positive effect on workers’ families and their broader communities.
We at the Mental Health Commission of Canada are keen to share our knowledge and experiences with any country interested in adapting our initiatives to suit the unique needs of its citizens.
We recognize that the Canadian model may not work in other settings, but encourage countries to consider the lessons we’ve learned along the way.
Among those lessons, perhaps the most important is that collaboration is at the heart of all of our transformative projects. Be it with communities, businesses, voluntary organizations, advocates, and, most crucially, people with lived experience of mental illnesses, partnerships are driving meaningful change across Canada’s mental health landscape.
At the Mental Health Commission of Canada, we understand that our role is to conduct crucial research to inform sound policies and programs. And to bring together leaders and organizations from across the country to accelerate change. All of our major initiatives depend on productive partnerships.
In the same way, we rely on our international partners to inform our thinking about, and approaches to, mental health issues. So I am here to listen and learn from the experiences of others.
The Commission will continue to work closely with this valued global community to fast-track Canadians’ access to innovative mental health approaches and address emerging mental health issues.
Thank you inviting me to share our country’s perspectives on this critically important matter.
1 Healthy Asia Pacific 2020 http://www.apec.org/~/media/Files/Groups/HWG/Healthy%20Asia%20Pacific%202020%20Roadmap_FINAL.PDF