Unions leading the way tackling mental health issues in the workplace

When people face financial instability, inadequate housing, poor working conditions, low wages, food insecurity, lack of education (the social determinants of health), it is difficult to maintain positive mental health. By organizing and advocating for good jobs, quality public services, fair labour rights and tax fairness, the National Union has created pressure on governments to improve the health of all Canadians.

Ottawa (03 May 2016) — The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is celebrating the 65th anniversary of its annual mental health week with the theme #GETTINGLOUD. According to the CMHA, “Getting loud means speaking up to stop the discrimination and the stigma that often go hand in hand with mental illness. It means using your voice to raise awareness and build support. For someone at home. For someone at work. For yourself.“

Unions on the front-line of fighting for mental health support

"Union members across the country are at the forefront of the struggle to maintain positive mental health," said James Clancy, National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). "Ensuring people have access to safe, affordable housing, nutritious food, and health care supports are just a few of things that members of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) do every day."

Unions act as advocates, often for people who don't have a voice of their own. By pressuring governments to create good jobs with decent wages, to invest in a national mental health strategy and to deal with workplace issues that compromise one's ability to have positive mental health are just a few things unions are doing in communites across Canada. 

But it goes further than that. Union members are advocates for others but also for each other.

Union members advocating for each other

Unions have taken on a leadership role when it comes to creating positive mental health for their members. For years, unions have been negotiating language in collective agreements that support mental health as well as physical health and safety. Unions fight harassment and discrimination in the workplace, negotiate mental health benefits and employee assistance programs and provide courses and workshops for members to challenge stigma and promote awareness of mental health. 

But in a number of areas, NUPGE has led the way.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

In November 2015, NUPGE held a national meeting to discuss the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder among workers, especially among first responders and emergency workers. Members heard from experts in the field, identified best practices in the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD, and started to coordinate action to ensure those practices are put in place across the country. 

Bullying 

When we now talk about harassment in the workplace, bullying is front and centre in that conversation. NUPGE's Nova Scotia Component, the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU/NUPGE) was one of the first unions to develop a bully-free workplace program in 2014. It has become a leading program around the world on how to identify and prevent on-the-job bullying and psychological harassment.

Fighting income inequality

A major contribution by NUPGE has been to starting and continuing the conversation about income inequality in Canada. Starting in 2009, the All Together Now! campaign was launched to tell people about the devastating impact income inequality has on individuals and communities. When people face financial instability, inadequate housing, poor working conditions, low wages, food insecurity, lack of access to education (the social determinants of health), it is difficult to maintain positive mental health. By organizing and advocating for a change in how we look at taxes, by advocating for good jobs, quality public services and fair labour rights, the National Union has created pressure on governments to improve the health of all Canadians.

What you can do?

There are many simple ways to participate in Mental Health Week. Here are a few suggestions from the CMHA:

  • #GETLOUD on social media: check out the CMHA toolkit for shareable images and sample posts and tweets.
  • Wear green in support of mental health: Green ribbons were used in the 1800s to label people “insane.” The CMHA is asking people to turn that negative history on its head by wearing green during Mental Health Week.
  • Speak up: talk openly about mental health: Talking openly about mental health, with people you feel safe with, can end the silence and shame around mental health problems. 
  • Be a friend to someone you know who’s struggling: You can be the friend who opens up a conversation. Offer to listen without judgment and do what you can to help.

More information: 

National Union roundtable benefits from experts and celebrity participation

NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 360,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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