What’s the issue?

We know that employment plays a key role in the recovery of individuals living with a mental illness. It improves their mental health, reduces their need for health services, increases their financial well-being, and creates positive social networks. Yet, the unemployment rates for people living with a severe mental illness can be as high as 70% to 90%.

Research shows that individuals living with a disability (including those living with a mental illness) are as, if not more, qualified, reliable, loyal, and productive than their colleagues who do not have a disability. The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) coined the term ‘The Aspiring Workforce’ to identify those people who, due to mental illness, have been unable to enter the workforce, are in and out of the workforce due to episodic or persistent illness, or wish to return to work after a lengthy period away from work.


What We’re Doing

In 2013, the MHCC released the research report The Aspiring Workforce - Employment and Income for People with Serious Mental Illness. It made recommendations to reduce employment barriers for people living with mental illness and identified innovative practices to help them secure and sustain meaningful employment. Based on these recommendations, the MHCC is working at three different levels to accelerate change:

For Policymakers:

  • On November 28, 2017, MHCC hosted a forum for federal, provincial, and territorial governments, researchers, community service providers, and people with lived experience to promote the exchange of ideas and promising practices to raise employment levels for people living with a mental illness. The goal of this day was to co-create actionable recommendations for government in the areas of disability and income supports, targeted employment and social enterprises, and supported employment that will be effective in reducing employment barriers for these individuals. Review the summary report and discussion paper.

For Employers and HR Professionals:

  • MHCC is partnering with Magnet and WhoPlusYou, a not-for-profit online network that connects job seekers (targeting those who are unemployed and underemployed) to employers based on skills and talent needed. MHCC will work with Magnet to provide targeted resources and solutions around mental health in the workplace for job seekers, employers, and employment agencies to reduce employment barriers for individuals living with mental health problems or illnesses.
  • A Clear Business Case for Hiring Aspiring Workers examined five Canadian businesses from three different provinces where the employers took active steps to hire and accommodate workers living with mental illness. For each of the businesses, data was gathered to form a comprehensive economic breakdown of the estimated net benefit and benefit-to-cost ratio for the employee and employer.  In all of the case studies completed, there was a significant return on investment for providing accommodations to workers with mental illness, meaning there were financial gains associated with the accommodation measures for both workers and employers. For more information, read the summary of key findings.
  • MHCC has invested in the Social Enterprise Ecosystem Project, which connects training, marketing, and impact measurement resources for social enterprises anywhere in Canada. A social business is a commercial venture that markets goods and services to the public and uses this economic activity to achieve social outcomes.
  • MHCC is partnering with the Social Enterprise Institute to deliver webinars, online learning and coaching support to social enterprises who hire people with mental illness.

For Employment Agencies and Job Seekers:

  • MHCC completed an environmental scan of supported employment agencies across Canada to determine where and how evidence-based approaches (such as the Individual Placement Support model) are being implemented to support individuals living with a mental illness get into the workforce. The scan identified over 571 programs that offer services to people with mental illness. The results of this scan were mapped on a user friendly and interactive visualization tool that was based on Canada’s provincial and economic regional data and the recent 2016 Census data (including information from 2.9 million persons aged 18-64 who self identified as having a mental illness).
  • MHCC hosts a workplace webinar series on the last Wednesday of every month, including webinars that highlight programs and initiatives which work to eliminate barriers to employment for individuals living with a mental illness.


More Resources: