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The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and total well-being of their employees first. Register for the 2020 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at: This series of articles supports the award.

Today, approximately seven million Canadians are experiencing a mental-health challenge or addictive disorder. However, mental-health care and related services across the country remain underfunded.

If we break a leg and go to a hospital emergency ward, we’re confident we’ll get the treatment we need. It’s a much different experience for a person in crisis with a mental-health challenge. Their wait time may not be a few hours. It could be days, weeks and sometimes months. Imagine if you had to wait a month to get your broken leg treated.

As Mental Illness Awareness Week (Oct. 6-12) this year falls during the federal election campaign, mental-health service providers across Canada are asking all federal parties to put more focus and attention on the issues of mental health and addictions.


According to the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH) – a non-profit agency comprising health-care providers including the Canadian Mental Health Association and other organizations that represent individuals who have experienced mental illness – only seven per cent of health-care spending by the provinces and territories goes to mental-health services.

Research shows that individuals with low income, who live in poverty or who are homeless are far more likely to experience issues related to mental health, which underscores a need for publicly funded services. Statistics Canada says Canadians in the lowest income group are three to four times more likely than those in the highest income group to report poor to fair mental health. In fact, as many as two-thirds of homeless people report having a mental illness. Additionally, unemployment rates are as high as 70 to 90 per cent for people with the most severe mental illnesses.

With limited resources relative to the demand for services, access to publicly funded mental-health services remains an issue, with hospital psychiatric wards often having long wait times. Research suggests that only about one-half of Canadians experiencing a major depressive episode receive adequate care.

Meanwhile, there’s growing evidence showing that investment in promotion, prevention and early intervention has positive returns, particularly for community-based services. Take housing for example. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, appropriate housing with supports can reduce costs in other areas, such as those associated with encounters with the justice system. It costs $72 a day to house a person in the community with supports, compared to as much as $460 a day to keep that person in jail or $485 a day in a psychiatric hospital. Those housing supports give individuals the tools that can aid in their recovery with the goal of regaining independence, thereby limiting or eliminating future use of community housing or interactions with the law. This is one example of the economic business case to increase spending on mental health and addictions care.


Mental-health and addictions agencies across the country are recommending the federal government introduce a mental health parity act that would ensure mental health is valued equally to physical health, with clearly defined goals and accountability measures for government.

CAMIMH says a mental health parity act should also assess the equity of funding and delivery of mental-health services against physical illness in areas of federal responsibility, including service delivery to Indigenous peoples, veterans and the Canadian Forces, federal inmates, RCMP and public servants. The overarching goal of this act would be to give all Canadians timely access to the right combination of evidence-based services, treatments and supports, when and where they need them.


One way to expand the conversation on mental health is to be curious and ask questions. By asking questions about what government is doing and what your employer is doing, you’ll discover first-hand goals, supports and gaps with respect to supporting people with mental health and addictions concerns. Other things you can do to help make mental-health parity a reality:

  • Review each federal party’s position on mental health and addictions.
  • Seek to understand what level of support your employer provides for mental health and addictions. Go beyond the name of the program and seek to understand the details, so you’re clear on the degree of support available if or when you need it for yourself or family.
  • Explore and seek to understand the different programs available in your area. For example, the Canadian Mental Health Association has a program called Mental Health Works, which provides capacity-building workshops, presentations and webinars to workplaces that build mental-health awareness. They also teach how to respond to challenging situations and collaborate to create healthier workplaces.
  • After the election, consider how you can help your local mental-health community agency through volunteering or donations.

Read about the 2019 winners of the award and watch a video from the winners here. You can also purchase the benchmark report that outlines findings from 2018 at this link.

Bill Howatt is the founder of Howatt HR Consulting and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award. Camille Quenneville is the CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario Division.

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