Explode the mental illness stigma
TheGlobeandMail.com – News/Opinions/Editorial
September 27, 2010.
The stigma and shame associated with mental illness will not be lifted all at once, but by degrees, as the issue is brought out of the shadows and into the open. The harm done by the tenacious and anachronistic silence around mental ill health is immense, because it prevents or delays people from getting help, which only worsens the illness. That is why the corporate sector needs to show leadership in helping erase the shame around mental illness. Maintaining a healthy work force is a matter of corporate self-interest, and companies are beginning to take notice.
Bill Wilkerson, co-founder of the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Mental Health, sees a sea change of late in Canadian business, after years in which companies mostly paid lip service to mental-health issues. Bell Canada president George Cope spoke this week about his mother’s depression and announced a $50-million donation to mental-health-related causes, and has enlisted Clara Hughes, Canada’s flag-bearer at the Vancouver Olympic Games to spread the message – the six-time medalist has suffered depression. Canada Post Corp. and Great West Life also have major mental-health initiatives under way. “About two years ago, we started to see something happen, driven by CEOs with family experience with mental illness.”
Not many CEOs have not gone public, Mr. Wilkerson said, but “senior figures in the financial services industry, in the steel and energy industry” have wrestled with the issue It’s not just a pet cause, but an investment based on sound business principles. “By investing in the brain health of employees, in an economy where cerebral skills are at a premium, we are investing in competitive strengths.”
There is a lot of work to do in the mental health field where corporate Canada can make a difference. Companies need to attend their employees’ own mental health. They can also be part of public-private partnerships that can expand community services and supports for sufferers of mental-health related diseases and conditions. And they can help support research into prevention and treatment.
What one doesn’t talk about, one stigmatizes. The silence around mental illness as a business issue is beginning to break up.
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