Addressing mental health at work
PSAC is joining with other partners in the labour movement to raise awareness of workplace mental health. Unions and employers are seeing an increasing number of workers experiencing mental health disabilities. These may result in the need for accommodation at work and could involve absences from the workforce.
Mental health issues pose challenges to employers and unions alike. How do we provide representation for these individuals? What is the correct language to use when talking about these issues? How do we address return-to-work and the ways that others respond?
These questions do not have easy answers. As union representatives, we can't be expected to act as social workers, healers or psychotherapists. But we can be mental health advocates and support members through their challenges.
Over the years we have mastered how we approach physical injuries in the workplace – we investigate, identify the source and arrive at corrective measures. This is not so evident when addressing mental health problems. The workplace environment may play in a role in psychological conditions or it may exacerbate a condition that stems from outside of work.
Statistics show that at least one in five Canadians will experience some form of mental health issue during their life time. For individuals living with a chronic physical impairment, that statistic doubles. This is important information for union representatives – the members we represent for physically-based injuries may experience mental health challenges as well.
As union representatives we will need to engage active listening skills and work to earn the trust of these vulnerable members.
When providing representation we may need to move away from a grievance focus and provide supports and resources. This means helping members identify services and access special leave provisions. Presenting creative approaches to management, working collaboratively with the employer on return to work initiatives and providing information and training in the workplace will go a long way toward making an impact.
Presently upwards of 50 per cent of disability claims in the federal public service are the result of mental health issues. We know that cutbacks in the federal public services will lead to overwork, which will likely magnify mental health challenges for many of our members.
In the Mental Health at Work report PSAC identifies a number of actions to address work overload, negative work environment, harassment, poor work-life balance and job insecurity. Familiarize yourself with these and make them part of this ongoing discussions with members and management at the local level.
PSAC is taking action. We recently introduced a series of new resources on mental health:
- Mental Health at Work, why it matters (report)
- Mental Health at Work, why it matters (brochure)
- A mental health information sheet for locals
The document Duty to Accommodate: A PSAC Guide for Local Union Representatives is another necessary tool to be familiar with, along with the employer's accommodation policy. Contact your closest regional office for a copy.
PSAC is also developing education on the duty to accommodate and mental health, including workshops on this topic.
Date Modified : 2011/12/12