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Bill Wilkerson talks about the workplace

Globe and Mail Update

Depression carries a cruel stigma in the workplace, says Bill Wilkerson, CEO of the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health in this Monday's Globe and Mail.

"There's this attitude out there that if you come back from cancer, you're a hero, but if you come back from depression, you're damaged goods."

Read Andre Picard's full story on mental illness and the workplace Monday and join Mr. Wilkerson Tuesday at noon ET for a live online discussion.

Bill Wilkerson is co-founder and CEO of the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health, a federal non-profit corporation that is working toward to reduce disabilities due to mental disorders in the labour force.

He has been credited with putting mental health on the "business pages of the nation" and the business agenda of corporate Canada. He speaks the language of business because he has spent the bulk of his working life in business.

Mr. Wilkerson was the "transformational president" of the country's largest health benefits company, Liberty Health, now Maritime Health and held senior executive positions at the Royal Bank of Canada and CBC television and CBC Radio.

He has been a business adviser in sports and entertainment including the National Hockey League, Toronto Blue Jays, Canadian Football League, TSN, CTV and SkyDome, now the Rogers Centre.

Mr. Wilkerson's career also touched down in government, journalism and education. He was a ministerial aide in the first Trudeau Government federally, the last Bill Davis Government in Ontario and was Chief of Staff to the Mayor of Toronto.

He is also active in children's mental health issues as co-author of Guidelines for Working Parents to prevent adolescent suicide. He serves with Ontario's only Centre of Excellence for Children's Mental Health and the Canadian Alliance for Children's Health at the world-famous Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

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Andre Picard, globeandmail.com writes: Thanks for joining us today Mr. Wilkerson. Before we get on with other questions I'd like to ask one. Health problems — either mental health or physical health — concern individuals. Why should employers care?

Bill Wilkerson: Employers must care about the mental health of their employees for three reasons: one, health and productivity go hand-in hand - for employers, this is a matter of legitimate self-interest and huge costs to rein-in;

two, employers - through the climates they create in the workplace - can cause some of the risk factors which affect the well-being of people - chronic job stress, for example, can lead to burn-out and depression. Employers are increasingly being held accountable by courts and tribunals for their role in producing hazardous work climates so they need to protect themselves against these kinds of liabilities;

and three, a good employer is led by good people - by definition this is true - and most employers strive to be good employers. Which, in turn means, they can and must do the right thing by ensuring that human decency is part of their management credo. Without this, they will be hard-pressed to recruit and retain the best people and that goes to their competitive instincts as well.

I like to remind employers that when we hire someone we hire the whole person - vulnerabilities included. And if we didn't do that, we would have to recruit people from another universe because all of us vulnerable to one kind of illness or health problem.

Molly Ware from Pasadena NL Canada writes: What specific things can employers do to help a person with a mental illness enter the workforce or return to work after having had a relapse?

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