Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The working wounded

Mental illness is costing the Canadian economy a staggering $51-billion a year, and each day 500,000 people miss work because of psychiatric problems. What are employers doing about it? Not much.

The day Sylvie Giasson lost her job at the National Gallery of Canada – a victim of restructuring – it was as if a black hole opened up to swallow her.

The Gatineau, Que., translator began stuttering and crying. The tears wouldn't stop. She couldn't sleep. Suicidal thoughts overwhelmed her.

It took all the energy Ms. Giasson could muster to get herself to hospital, where she was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety disorder. She spent seven months in the Royal Ottawa Hospital, being treated with medication, counselling and electroconvulsive therapy. And she endured it all virtually alone.

“Nobody wants to visit a loved one in a mental hospital,” Ms. Giasson said. There were no flowers or get-well-soon cards. No one called.

Society's silence about mental health is deafening. When you are diagnosed, you disappear. Yet the vast majority of Canadians suffering from mental illness – such severe conditions as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia – are not in hospital but in the community and at work.

Mental illness accounts for a stunning 40 per cent of disability claims and sick leaves in Canada. While employees jest about “mental-health days,” they are no joke. Every day, 500,000 Canadians are absent from work due to psychiatric problems; the most recent estimate pegged the annual economic burden of mental illness at a staggering $51-billion. The World Health Organization estimates that by 2020, depression will be the leading cause of disability on the planet.


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