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Port Hope expert fights work-place depression

Cecilia Nasmith

By Cecilia Nasmith, Northumberland Today

Submitted Photo
Port Hope mental-health expert Bill Wilkerson ‚ seen here in his official RCMP blazer in his capacity as sworn civilian mental-health adviser to the RCMP ‚ shares mental-health tips from his presentation in Whitehorse, Yukon.

Submitted Photo Port Hope mental-health expert Bill Wilkerson ‚ seen here in his official RCMP blazer in his capacity as sworn civilian mental-health adviser to the RCMP ‚ shares mental-health tips from his presentation in Whitehorse, Yukon.


Port Hope resident Bill Wilkerson (cofounder of the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health) is in Whitehorse this week for a Yukon government conference on human-resources threats and challenges. On the occasion of Bell Canada’s Let's Talk Day (Feb. 12, when they make donations to mental health initiatives across the country based on consumer use of their facilities), Wilkerson wanted to share points with Northumberland Today readers on issues that affect them — today on the topic of depression in the workplace.



A healthy employee is a productive employee.

As Port Hope resident Bill Wilkerson has said for so many years, an employee fighting depression is typically anything but healthy and productive. And there's a cost attached to that in terms of business and the economy.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto stated last year that depression costs the Canadian economy more than $50 billion a year, one-third of that due to lost productivity.

Wilkerson's Yukon presentation stated that depression, a brain-based mental disorder, can have a dramatic impact on the course and outcome of several major physical chronic conditions, ranging from cardiovascular disease, arthritis and chronic pain to cancer, diabetes, asthma and head trauma.

Canadian clinical research has established that those living with depression have four times more cardiovascular disorders and, among hospital heart patients, depression increases the risk of a second sudden fatal heart attack by 500%.

Depression is also associated with complications of diabetes, ranging from compromised eyesight to premature death.

Issues of productivity are well known, but even looking at the cost in terms of employee benefits is revealing. For example, more than 10% of general drug-plan costs are for mental-illness drugs, and more than 21% of all drug claims are to treat mental illness. When medical conditions co-occur with depression, total pharmacy costs related to mental illness increase by a factor of three.

The largest-ever Canadian employee survey about workplace mental health and mental illness — specifically depression — was commissioned by the Great West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace, conducted among more than 12,000 manager and employees by Ipsos-Reid in 2007 and 2012. It named three of the most penetrating forms of chronic job stress:

• Isolation — when managers and employees who feel especially vulnerable in their jobs are cut off from the team and made to feel especially expendable.

• Futility — a fading or lost purpose, the sense of losing the chance of making one's voice heard or one's work count.

• Churn — being surrounded by a whirlwind of perpetually shifting priorities, people and prospects.

Along with his diagnosis, Wilkerson's talk set out leadership guidelines, disability-management targets, building blocks for a psychologically healthy work place and the importance of a stress policy.

While there is such a thing as constructive stress, disruptive stress can become dysfunctional over time. Wilkerson devised a list called The 10 Faces Of Stress to help employers recognize when this territory is being approached — growing irritability and impatience with routine requests, for example, or limiting eye contact with others when at all possible.

Wilkerson has become an in-demand speaker on the topic of workplace mental health. In order to keep his engagement in Whitehorse, he had to cancel one he had in Los Angeles. But soon after his return, he will travel to the U.S. — to Florida to make a presentation to the International Foundation for Employee Benefit Plans.

He is looking forward to his March visit to Dubai to speak at an international congress of prescription-drug executives and health-care professionals to discuss future treatment scenarios.

"I will be bringing the message that we have to push for an all-out cure for depression in order to motivate people — not only there, but all over Europe and North America — to believe we can actually achieve such a thing, and to facilitate the necessary investments of tens of billions of dollars needed over the next five to 10 years," he said in a recent interview.

After that, he is speaking in Ottawa and San Francisco.

"The point is, mental health in the workplace is catching fire," he stated with some gratification.

"And Port Hope is the workplace-mental-health capital of the world, as defined by the number of presentations I am making and the number of countries I am visiting."



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