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No need to whisper: Why speaking up for mental illness at work is important

By Work With Us Foundation on December 3 2018

12-03 International Day for PW Disabilities Blog Header_v2There used to be a time when the ‘c’ word – cancer was only whispered in hushed voices. That was then, this is now. 

No longer spoken in quiet tones, it’s almost impossible to have not been touched in some way by the disease. Thanks to years of advocacy and collective mobilization, we now speak more openly about the fear, pain and the impact of this disease. 

But this is not about cancer. This piece is about those who still suffer in silence or live in shame because they suffer from mental health challenges. What we have learned in overcoming barriers to and advocating for persons with diseases also can help us overcome the stigma associated with persons with disabilities, including mental illnesses. 

Currently, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience some type of mental health issue. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) cites that 8% of the population will be touched by a major depression in their lifetime. The estimates of the financial impact of mental illness to the Canadian economy vary, but one report by the Conference Board of Canada of the impact of unmet care for depression and anxiety combined pegs the cost at almost $50 billion annually – which is almost twice the economic contribution of the agricultural sector to Canada’s GDP. 

Despite these sizable numbers and the impact to our communities, workplaces and economies there remains the stigma of this disability. And this is a disability. 

Mental illness, similar to cancer, does not discriminate. It affects all ages, genders, incomes and cultures. Most people do not self-identify with their employer for fear of consequence, apparent lack of support or the stigma and shame. That said, individuals bring their whole selves to work, including any challenges they are facing personally. 


Forward thinking companies and effective managers understand the value of creating a safe space for employees at work. Even so, for many companies, individuals suffering from mental illnesses often get overlooked within diversity and inclusion policies. 

At WorkWithUs, we have seen firsthand that companies who are committed to inclusive hiring practices create a ripple effect of good. Not only do they solve their own pragmatic workforce needs, but they also pair with individuals who are highly motivated to succeed.

The opportunity for individuals struggling with mental health issues or recovering from addiction to do meaningful work translates into better outcomes for those individuals, the companies that they work for and for the communities in which they live. 

Rather than staying silent, we encourage employers, hiring managers and companies committed to strengthening their workforce diversity and inclusion program to actively seek out a more diverse candidate pool that includes persons with disabilities – physical or otherwise. 

Until our society can start accepting and supporting our mental health as importantly as our physical health, people will continue to suffer in silence. It will take leaders in the private and public sector to actively choose to support any disability and more specifically, a mental health disability, to move this issue to the open and with acceptance. 

If you’re interested in learning more about how we help organizations bridge the diversity hiring gap, contact us to set up a conversation where we promise nobody will have to whisper.

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