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Why employers need a change of mind

By Ed Mantler

Unemployment rates for people living with mental health challenges can be as high as 70 to 90 per cent, which disadvantages employers as much as it discriminates against people keen to be part of Canada’s economy. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), stigma and prejudice, along with inadequate employment supports, are major obstacles that prevent people with mental illnesses from getting – and keeping – a job.

A variety of approaches can help put these individuals to work, social enterprises being one. Ryan Knight says starting a social enterprise saved his life. A young man living with ADHD and depression, he received support from Rise Asset Development to start and run his own business, which has proved to be crucial to his recovery.

Knight’s mobile auto detailing and waterless eco-cleaning service, Detailing Knights, is such a success that his firm has secured major contracts – including cleaning the Toronto fleet of Zipcars – and is poised for expansion. He gives back by hiring people with a mental health challenge, doing his part to help break the cycle of stigma, discrimination and unemployment.

“It needs to become more well known that employment can be a key piece to recovery,” said Knight. “Since it’s difficult to get hired, creating your own job may be the best alternative.”

The research suggests that employers experience a reduction in costs when they employ people living with a mental illness.

Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur like Knight, but people with mental health issues, if given the opportunity and necessary support, are more than capable of contributing to the labour market. According to research, mental health problems and illnesses account for more than $6 billion annually in lost productivity costs due to absenteeism and presenteeism. In Canada, there is a cost to Canadian taxpayers of approximately $9.6 billion per year on disability income support for mental health related reasons, says the Canada Employment Insurance Commission.

The MHCC recently funded a research study outlining the business arguments for hiring, accommodating and supporting “aspiring workers,” an MHCC term used to describe people who are unable to enter the workforce, who are in and out of the workforce due to episodic or persistent illness or who wish to return to work after a lengthy period away from the job due to mental illness. The research suggests that employers experience a reduction in costs when they employ people living with a mental illness. 

Ed Mantler is the vice president of programs and priorities at the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

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