Finding community resources

May 4, 2017

There are many groups that offer counselling and support. Family doctors can be a great source of information.

Here are some other suggestions for where to look for help:

  • 211 service is available in some provinces and one territory. It connects you to government and community-based health and social services. You can access the service by calling 211. It is free and confidential. You can also search by web
  • Your provincial division of the Canadian Mental Health Association should have a list of resources. You can find contact information for your provincial CMHA here:
  • Advocacy and support organizations deal with specific mental illnesses. Many of these organizations also run support groups, both for family members/caregivers and for people with mental health challenges. Look for provincial or local chapters of national organizations like the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, the Mood Disorders Society of Canada, the National Eating Disorder Information Centre, or the Organization for Bipolar Affective Disorders Society.
  • Specialized clinics often run support groups. Contact hospital-run clinics, like those for people with eating disorders, psychosis, depression, anxiety, and those using substances harmfully. Some of these may be open to people who are not patients at the clinic. If these clinics don’t run support groups, they may be able to direct you to other resources.
  • Local health authorities may have support groups or courses on living with mental illness or supporting those who do.
  • Most provinces have peer support programs that allow you to talk to other people who have experienced mental health challenges.
  • There are also organizations that cater to specific segments of the population—for example, youth living with mental illness.

If a member needs to take time off work

Working when you are dealing with mental health challenges can be very difficult. It may also lead to other problems at work. If a member is feeling depressed and overwhelmed, for example, they may find themselves not responding at their usual speed, or falling farther behind in their work. Or they may simply be unable to face their regular tasks.

It’s important to let members know what kind of sick leave, short term disability or long term disability benefits they have under their contract if needed. Depending on your contract or your employer’s policies, it’s also helpful to let them know what kind of doctor’s letter they may need to take this kind of leave.

If you don’t have sick leave or short-term disability and the member needs time off, suggest they apply for Employment Insurance Sickness Benefits. EI sickness benefits will cover a person for up to 15 weeks if they are temporarily not able to work because of illness, including mental illness. You can find information about applying for EI Sickness Benefits here: 

Many workers believe they have to tell their employer the specific reason that they are seeking time off work. Workers have the right to the privacy of their diagnosis, but you will need to let them know that they need to let the employer know of any limitations they have in returning to work. Two examples would be 1) they have a lot of fatigue and so need shorter hours temporarily or 2) they have trouble concentrating with a lot of noise and need a quiet place to work temporarily.

Duty to accommodate and Workers’ compensation

Under Canadian law, employers have to make every reasonable effort to accommodate workers with disabilities, including mental illness in the workplace.

The member you are assisting may need accommodations in the workplace, so they can continue to do their job. Some people need permanent accommodations, but many people with mental health challenges will only need temporary measures to help them stay on the job or ease them back into work. It’s also important to remember that mental illness is often episodic: People with depression don’t feel sad all the time, just as people with other mental illnesses don’t always experience symptoms. Some members with mental illness may need accommodation for a short period of time and then not need it again for years.

Members don’t have to tell the employer their specific diagnosis given privacy law. You should work with your member and their doctor to explain their specific needs and limitations that affect their work to the employer. The member will likely need a doctor’s letter on their needs and limitations.

Depending on your employer, it can sometimes be hard to discuss these issues—especially if you are in recovery from a mental illness. Advocating for your member and helping them talk to your employer will be a key role for union representatives.

Employers have a legal responsibility and duty to accommodate workers. The union and the worker also have responsibilities and the union representative can help a member make sure they understand their responsibilities and clearly communicate their accommodation needs to the employer.

4 examples of changes for accommodation:

Let’s say you have a member experiencing anxiety that is affecting their work. They don’t have to share this diagnosis with your employer. But the member must give them enough information about their needs and limitations in order to be accommodated. Their doctor could say what they temporarily need:

  • They have a lot of fatigue and so will need a graduated return to full hours;
  • They are less resilient to stress currently and so need to be relieved temporarily of some of your most stressful duties like crisis client calls;
  • They have trouble concentrating currently and so will need to temporarily work on long-term projects instead of projects with tight deadlines;
  • They sometimes need a break from a noisy work environment, so they may need access to a quiet space for several times a day, when needed.

Accommodations based on this information might help you stay in your current job and they don’t reveal your diagnosis. You can find other accommodation suggestions for mental health issues at

Workers’ compensation

Most people with a mental illness can be accommodated by the duty to accommodate law. Some workers with a mental illness like PTSD may have their illness be brought on or greatly affected by a workplace incident or a series of incidents. In some provinces, there is now specific workers’ compensation coverage for some workers with PTSD. You should talk to your union representative if this is the case and they will help guide you as to whether you filing a workers’ compensation claim is appropriate. There is also coverage in some provinces for violence, harassment, stress or harm to psychological well-being that happens in the workplace—if these are significant factors for your member’s situation then filing a claim for worker’s compensation maybe appropriate.

We are currently in an evolving environment in terms of representing members with mental health issues. Where we are today will be different from where we will be 5 or 10 years from now. The best practices in representing members will continue to evolve and unions will need to keep listening to our members with mental health issue and keep learning how best to represent them going forward.

LINK TO PTSD section