From Human Rights to the Right Thing To Do

In 2003 I began working in the field of workplace mental health through the Canadian Mental Health Association. At that time most people did not even know what workplace mental health meant. Very few employers were taking action to address or improve mental health in the workplace. The motivation for action through the Mental Health Works program at that time was the Ontario Disabilities Act (ODA). The ODA required employers to go beyond the Human Rights duty to accommodate, to proactively remove barriers to employment for persons with disabilities. While many employers knew how to do this for employees with vision, hearing or mobility concerns, the question was how to remove barriers for employees with mental health related disabilities. My task at the time was to help address this complex issue with clear solutions for managers and supervisors.

It’s been a dozen years since then and a recent announcement of an event (check out our events listings) related to the renamed ODA – Accessibility for Ontarian’s with Disability (AODA) reminded me how far we have come from just complying with legislation, to where many employers just want to do the right thing by their employees. Part of the shift is simple awareness of the fact that employees with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety can and do stay productive. And, no doubt a big part of it is the access to resources such as Mindful Employer Canada, Workplace Strategies for Mental Health, and others provide at low cost or no cost.

No matter the motivation, supporting employees to be successful at work benefits everyone and I am privileged to have witnessed this shift in social and corporate consciousness over the past decade. In 2017 we will celebrate the 10th year anniversary of the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace. A decade of developing resources with organizations and experts across the country to make them available at no cost to everyone. 2017 will also mark 10 years for the Mental Health Commission of Canada and 4 years for the National Standard of Canada on Psychological Health and Safety. All I can say is we’ve come a long way baby!