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Bill Wilkerson talks about the workplace

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Bill Wilkerson: Molly, quite a number of things and you may want to check our business and economic plan at

Meanwhile, the first step is to ensure managers are trained to 'manage' employees whio are joining signs of wear and tear, or distress but to do so, without judgment and with empathy. These are not new to good management. They are part of good management, anyway.

The second thing is that when a person is off work, stay in touch with them casually and, as time goes by, ask if they even would like to see some work materials.

Third, when a person is ready to return to work, their re-entry should be facilitated by modified work schedules and tasks which are worked out with the employee not unilaterally. Also, make sure that when the employee has been cleared medically to return, there is not a big delay on the employer's part in making that happen. Recovery and a timely, gradual return to work go hand in hand. Bill

Tara Lene from Toronto Canada writes: One of my frustrations with public conceptions of mental health problems is that they cost too much money to treat effectively. While it is true that issues of mental health cost society and businesses money, so too do problems of physical health. While employers and governments are willing to pay for problems of physical health, since it is clear that in many cases this investment will pay off by returning a healthier (and thus more productive) worker to the labour force, these same entities are generally unwilling to make the same types of investments in their workers with problems of mental health.

What is being done on a peer level (in terms of pressure and self-directed guidelines) and on a political level (in terms of policy) to convince employers that investing in workers with problems of mental health will reap the same rewards as the investments they already make in their workers with problems of physical health?

As a side point: From a medical perspective is it still even reasonable (or responsible) to make a distinction between problems of physical health and problems of mental health, given that observable biological process are responsible for, or at least contribute largely, to problems of mental health?

Bill Wilkerson: Tara, the need for peer support in the workplace ism, in my judgment, a major priority for employers. This means training managers and co-workers to be supportive of people coming back to without probing why they were off in the first place. Being non-judgmental is absolutely key. The military and police organizations are advancing models of peer support training that I hope we can adapt for the civilian workplace. With respect to job accommodations and return to work procedures, it is important to work out how the employee will return to work in direct dialogue with the employee himself or herself.

The costs of doing this are peanuts. Almost no real dollar cost at all. The cost is usually expressed in time of the manager but that's a cost easily absorbed. Also, studies tell us that the employer's cost of prescription drugs, disability insurance and case management can be fully-recovered in the reduction of lost time in a space of six months after the person has successfully returned to work. So, cost is a non-issue.

As for the distinction between mental and physical disorders, you are bang on. Depression, in fact, is a physical illness with physical properties right in the brain and can influence the quality and flow of blood as a result of a the way in which hormones get distributed in a frantic and excessive way throughout the body. Severe stress has physical symptoms. Physicians will tell you that there are plenty of mental things about physical illness and plenty of physical things about mental illness and to your point, there should be no dividing like. Depression and heart disease and breast cancer are all physical illnesses with psychological implications. Bill

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Face it. Fund it. Fix it.

In Breakdown, The Globe and Mail documents the enormous, unaddressed cost of mental illness to Canadian individuals, families and society. The series closes with a search for solutions.


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