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Workplaces more attuned to mental health issues: Fee

Next week, Pathways Clubhouse helps celebrate the Canadian Mental Health Association's (CMHA) mental health awareness week through the free screening of This Dust of Words, an information display and a thrift store sale for the public.

Next week, Pathways Clubhouse helps celebrate the Canadian Mental Health Association's (CMHA) mental health awareness week through the free screening of This Dust of Words, an information display and a thrift store sale for the public. The theme, "mental health for all," represents the right for every Canadian to enjoy mental health, said Pathways public education program manager Barbara Fee.

Next week's programming highlights the need to raise awareness about mental illness and to engage more people in discussion. As Pathways works to help educate the community, Fee has noticed an increase in initiatives surrounding these issues, particularly when it comes to the workplace.

"The calls have most definitely increased," she said. "These are calls of inquiry from employers with employees dealing with these issues. Agencies have implemented their own programs, recognizing the need. The word is out."

In recent years, employers have begun to realize the advantages of being more aware, citing a noticeable impact on their bottom line and workplace productivity. The fact that mental illness is no longer lumped under stress, and is recognized as a separate health concern, allows companies to address the issue directly, according to Fee.

"Employers are being more pro-active before things really begin to deteriorate," said Fee. "They offer more support to families. It's a better outcome for all."

Fee cites the creation of the Mental Health Commission of Canada in 2007 and national conferences such as The Bottom Line as game changers in the field. CMHA's annual Bottom Line Conference brings together business leaders, policymakers, workers and researchers to improve mental health in the workplace to educate all parties involved.

One in five Canadians will suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime, according to Health Canada.

"It's something that affects all of us at some point, given the broad scope of it," said Fee. "No one can escape when a difficult situation arises, so we educate and make sure tools are available."

But while initiatives are implemented, those returning to the workplace after a prolonged leave still face lack of confidence, anxiety about the return gaps in resumes, and fear they will need to take another leave.

To remedy these apprehensions, Pathways has a transitional employment program. Staff works to find members a job, are trained in that job and educate the employer about mental health issues.

The staff then trains the potential employee for the job, rather than the employer. If the new employee needs to leave the job again, a Pathways staff member will step in, so that the employer is guaranteed employment.

"It's an incentive for the employer to take a chance," said Fee.

The jobs are generally part time, entry-level positions in order for the return to work be a safe and do-able task.

Twenty-four members participated through this program last year, said Fee. Through the support employment program, 45 members worked for over 6,300 hours, earning over $58,000, while more than 30 members worked independently, according to the 2011 Annual Report.

"Awareness and education is the key piece, which is what next week is all about," said Fee. "All these initiatives, locally and nationally, have helped a broader discussion take place, getting people talking about it."


- Pathways Clubhouse information display, May 7-9: People are encouraged to drop by the table at Landsdowne Centre, 5300 No. 3 Rd. It will provide an opportunity to increase mental health awareness and learn more about local services. There will also be fun giveaways. The display will be up from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., between the Zellers and food court.

- This Dust of Words free film screening, May 8: The film documents the life of Elizabeth Wiltsee who suffered from schizophrenia. The screening will be held at the Ralph Fisher Auditorium of the Richmond Hospital, 7000 Westminster Hwy at 7: 30 p.m. Dr. Harry Karlinsky (coordinator of medical education/professional development at Richmond Health Services) will host a postscreening discussion.

- Pathways Clubhouse thrift store sale, May 8-12: Everything at Pathways thrift store will be 50 per cent off. The store will be open between 10 a.m. and 2: 30 p.m. at 7351 Elmbridge Way.

Visit or call 6042768834, for more information.

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