Looks like Mike Harris may have picked up on one of life's biggest non-secrets:
Neither money nor power can buy happiness.
By publicly admitting his life lacks balance and handing over the helm to
others eager to set the course for Ontario, Harris may be sending one of
the most positive messages ever to emanate from the provincial Premier's
A little far-fetched, you think? Not if you're talking mental health, the
bedrock of a sound society, says Bill Wilkerson.
|BALANCE: Bill Wilkerson is
promoting the Mental Health Works project.
|Mike Harris is resigning to
spend more time with his family. Michael Wilson is also promoting
the Mental Health Works Project.
`Canadians with disabilities
are not damaged goods'
Wilkerson, head of the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction
and Mental Health, has been eloquently and succinctly making the case
for balance between the personal and the professional for three years.
Last week, he helped launch a new initiative to get employers to give
mental health issues the recognition they deserve.
The latest project, Mental Health Works, is looking for companies willing
to help build and pilot-test a package of management tools designed to create
healthier, more productive workplaces. That means cutting costs associated
with lost productivity, burnout, absenteeism and disability insurance claims.
"In the post-Sept. 11 economy, mental health is the ultimate productivity
weapon," Wilkerson argues.
Unless managers recognize that people and mental health are their biggest
assets, he says, they will be left with an army of walking wounded Ñ employees
still going through the motions, but so burdened with emotional stress and
depression that their ability to function is impaired.
Mental Health Works is a group effort supported by the Ontario division
of the Canadian Mental Health Association, the provincial government and
the Roundtable team, whose principals include Wilkerson, former head of
insurance giant Liberty Health, and former federal finance minister Michael
Wilson, now president of Brinson Canada, which manages some $31 billion
in pension assets. Wilson, who lost a son to severe depression, has been
an active public champion of mental health issues.
The facts put forward by the Roundtable make a persuasive case for business
to pay attention. Among other things, they note:
- Mental illness claims, primarily related to depression, are rising
at the fastest rate among major categories of disability insurance.
- If only half of employees got the help they need to conquer depression,
Canadian businesses could save up to $7 billion in prescription drugs
and wage replacement costs over 5 years.
- Every single year, mental health problems cost Canada's economy $16
billion in lost productivity.
That's the big picture. Mental Health Works aims to help companies recognize
and address these issues, thus reducing the stigma attached to mental health
problems in the workplace and reducing workplace barriers for people coping
with mental health problems.
Giant steelmaker Dofasco has already signed on, Wilkerson says. As the project
progresses, he hopes a whole range of business and labour groups will join
Among early converts to the Roundtable cause was Hershell Ezrin, head of
the federal unity office under former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, chief
of staff to former Ontario premier David Peterson and now head of Government
Policy Consultants (GPC International).
"The cost recovery arguments are indisputable," Wilkerson says.
In addition to productivity issues, there's growing evidence linking mental
and physical health.
"There's a definite link between depression and cardiovascular disease,
also respiratory problems," says Wilkerson.
Mental health is a very individual matter, involving different issues for
different people, he says. But you can bet the ranch that promoting a healthy
work environment goes way beyond instituting "casual Fridays."
Last year, the Roundtable group released a 12-step business plan to defeat
depression, including a list of stress-busters. Among suggestions:
- Unless action is taken, by 2020, depression will become the biggest
source of lost work days in developed countries.
- Give employees a clear idea of what's expected of them.
- Trust people to do their job, giving them control over their own work.
Breaking down the stigma for employees coping with clinical depression or
other serious disorders is also smart business, Wilkerson argues.
When someone returns to work after a heart attack, most companies recognize
that a full workload should be approached in stages, he says. The same principles
should apply for someone recovering from depression.
"Canadians with disabilities are not damaged goods,'' he says. "They are
achievers of a rare sort.
"The achievement of recovery from, and living with, the disabling effects
of illness, injury or accident of birth doesn't disqualify a person, it
qualifies them to do good, productive and exceptional work, obstacles or
For more information on Mental Health Works and the Global Business and
Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health, log on to http://www.mentalhealthroundtable.ca,
write 200 King St. W., Suite 1702, Toronto, Ont. M5H 3T4, or phone 416-598-0055.
- Practise inclusion. (When workers feel isolated, when they don't get
information, stress levels skyrocket.)
- Share the credit as well as the workload.