The Aspiring Workforce: Employment and Income for People with Serious Mental Illness - Mental Health Commission of Canada (2023)

Executive Summary

A disproportionate number of people with serious mental illness in Canada are unemployed or detached from the labour market, and the numbers of people with mental illness transitioning onto disability income support programs are rising. Many of our current ways of thinking about the work capacity of people with mental illness, and acting upon the problem, are ineffective. Systemic forces can lead to the employment marginalization of people who have skills and expertise to contribute to the Canadian economy and workforce.

We urgently need a national program of action to change this situation. There are effective ways to increase employment; this is a problem that has solutions. There is no one answer, but instead, a system of responses is required to effectively improve this issue.

In September 2009, the Mental Health Commission of Canada contracted the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health to undertake “The Aspiring Workforce” research project, in collaboration with researchers from the University of Toronto and Queen’s University. The intent of the project is to identify existing and innovative practices that will help people living with serious mental illness to secure and sustain meaningful employment and/or a sustainable income.

The term “Aspiring Workforce” describes those people who, due to mental illness, have been unable to enter the workforce, or who are in and out of the workforce due to episodic illness, or who wish to return to work after a lengthy period of illness. These people are as diverse as other Canadians in their life experiences and identities and come from all regions and cultural and linguistic groups across Canada. But, like any other Canadian, they share a desire and need for meaningful employment and a sustainable income.

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Canadians living with significant mental health issues experience high rates of unemployment. The “Aspiring Workforce” project is built on the understanding that access to work and to disability income support are intricately related for people with significant mental illnesses. Evidence from research shows that access to work can be improved through the use of supported employment programs. Supported employment is often provided by a variety of mental health professionals to help people find work that they are interested in, in the regular labour force, with ongoing support to help people within their jobs.

Beyond supported employment, there are a variety of innovative approaches to creating employment opportunities. A good example of this is the social business approach, which uses market strategies to create jobs for people with serious mental illness. By marketing quality goods and services to the Canadian public, social businesses provide an avenue to increase the profile of the aspiring workforce as contributing and capable.

Disability income benefits provided by a range of governments (federal, provincial, and territorial) and private providers are also important. Many people from the “Aspiring Workforce” may need to move in and out of the workforce and onto benefits due to the episodic nature of their mental health problems. Developing programs that are flexible and coordinated is important to ensure that people have a living income, whether from disability benefits, employment income, or a combination of these sources.

Entering the workforce often has a spider web effect on financial and other supports – once people begin to work, they can experience clawbacks in their disability income assistance, they may lose their health care benefits, and their rent may increase if they participate in a rent-geared-to-income program or receive rent subsidies. If they need to stop working, it may take long periods of time to undo the effects that working has caused on their benefit eligibility, placing them at risk of homelessness, or in other precarious situations.

The Problem

  • Up to 90% of Canadians with serious mental illness are unemployed.
  • The skills and talents of people with serious mental illness are often not recognized; their potential contribution to economic and civic life is wasted.
  • The barriers to employment for people with serious mental illness include: stigma and discrimination, income security policies that penalize (or fail to sufficiently reward) earned income, and inadequate sustained support for people in getting – and keeping – a job.

We Know That…

• People with a job are healthier, have higher self-esteem and have higher standards of living.
• There is overwhelming evidence that most people with serious mental health problems have skills and expertise to offer to the labour market – they can work, and want to work.

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The Economic Cost

• Randomized controlled trials tell us that people with mental illness who work use far fewer hospital and other health services than those without employment.
• Approximately $28.8 billion is spent each year in disability income support.
• Increasing employment will greatly reduce these costs.

The Human Cost

• A lack of work has been linked to stress and psychological instability, problems with self-esteem, relational conflicts, substance use, and other more serious mental health concerns.
• Unemployment is associated with a twofold to threefold increased relative risk of death by suicide, compared with being employed.
• Mental health consumers, families, and clinicians can testify to the impact of employment on health and wellbeing.

The Answers

The right employment supports – Not all employment supports are equal. The evidence tells us that rapid job placement models with long-term help to maintain employment are more successful and cost-effective than pre-vocational activities. Supported employment is an
innovative rapid job search model that has proven very effective.

Alternative employment options – Social enterprise has a track record of creating meaningful employment for people with mental illness. These businesses are often owned and operated by those who have received mental health services.

The right incentives – Well designed government programs can promote independence. People receiving social assistance and disability supports who work should not be subject to punishing disincentives. Working should make economic sense.

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The right information – Arming people with mental illness who want to work with the knowledge of the rights and supports they have access to in the workplace leads to a greater chance of success.


A paradigm shift de-stigmatizing people with serious mental illness
We need to re-conceptualize the relationship between work and mental health consumers.

Collaboration among different sectors
As the issue at hand spans multiple ministries and multiple stakeholders/actors, the importance of partnership and coordination is integral to the process of increasing labour market attachment for people with mental illness. Federal and provincial governments, mental health service providers, community organizations, and employers, and people with mental illness themselves, all need to be at the table moving forward.

Removing disincentives to return to work
Our current income support systems create barriers, with few incentives for returning to work. Those receiving disability income supports fear exiting these programs – once a person begins to work, their financial situation may become precarious and can actually worsen. We need to ensure there is sufficient incentive in returning to work, allowing disability income support programs to serve as a safety net. We also need to make it easier to find information about employment benefits available through disability income support programs.

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Use existing best practices while continuing to innovate
There are best practices and we should use them. We know supported employment works, and there is growing evidence of the potential of social businesses – but access to these opportunities is limited and they need more and stable funding. A commitment to invest in the development and testing of new strategies is also required.

Early intervention
The longer a person spends away from the labour market, the more difficult it is to return. We need to ensure supports are offered early, to reduce long-term detachment and encourage career development.

System capacity building
Compared to other OECD countries, Canada ranks 27th of 29 countries surveyed on public spending for disability-related issues and provides the second to lowest compensation and benefit levels. Reforms will require additional resources and funding in order to effectively expand labour force participation. This is not only beneficial for the success and wellbeing of those with mental illness – there is also a cost-benefit to putting resources into the right employment supports.

Knowledgeable consumers
The Aspiring Workforce (AW) study seeks to identify ways of helping consumers become workplace savvy. We acknowledge that success requires both the employee and employer to be on board. Interventions discussed in the AW project address the needs of both.


What is Mental Health Commission of Canada workplace mental health? ›

The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) is committed to helping employers create and maintain mentally healthy workplaces by providing the tools, information, and support needed to ensure that every person in Canada can go to work knowing their organization recognizes the importance of psychological health and ...

What are the employment rates of serious mental illness? ›

About 11.4 million U.S. adults have a serious mental illness — such as schizophrenia, anxiety, major depression and bipolar disorder — and up to 90 percent are unemployed.

How do I become a mental health worker in Canada? ›

Completion of a college or university program in social work, child and youth care, psychology or other social science or health-related discipline is usually required.

What is an employer's obligation to an employee with a mental illness? ›

Support to stay at work - if you are experiencing or recovering from mental ill-health, your employer must assist you to continue to do your job by making reasonable changes to 'recover at work', such as flexible working arrangements or a change of work responsibilities.

What mental health professionals work at a CMHC? ›

CMHC, Inc., a comprehensive community mental health center is a good place for training residencies, to work as a Behavioral Health Specialist (counselor, social worker, psychologist, psychiatric nurse, substance abuse counselor, peer specialist, marital and family therapist).

What is the employers duty of care to employees mental health? ›

The law on mental health

Employers have a 'duty of care'. This means they must do all they reasonably can to support their employees' health, safety and wellbeing. This includes: making sure the working environment is safe.

What is the best salary in mental health? ›

Highest salary that a Mental Health Counselor can earn is ₹11.0 Lakhs per year (₹91.7k per month). How does Mental Health Counselor Salary in India change with experience? An Entry Level Mental Health Counselor with less than three years of experience earns an average salary of ₹4.6 Lakhs per year.

What is the highest paying job in mental health? ›

Psychiatrists prescribe medications for patients with mental illnesses. Psychiatrist positions are by far the highest-paying jobs for psychology majors. The average salary is $217,798, according to PayScale.

Do employees with mental health conditions struggle to stay employed? ›

People with severe mental health conditions are more likely to be excluded from employment, and when in employment, they are more likely to experience inequality at work. Being out of work also poses a risk to mental health.

What qualifications do I need to work with people with mental health? ›

You'll need:
  • knowledge of psychology.
  • counselling skills including active listening and a non-judgemental approach.
  • to be flexible and open to change.
  • sensitivity and understanding.
  • the ability to work well with others.
  • to enjoy working with other people.
  • patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations.

What do I need to become a mental health support worker? ›

There are no specific qualifications needed to become a mental health support worker but employers usually prefer at least an NVQ level 2 in a relevant area such as health and social care.

How much does a mental health worker earn in USA? ›

Mental health workers make $41,081 per year on average, or $19.75 per hour, in the United States.

What happens if you can't work due to mental illness? ›

If you are unable to work due to a mental illness, you should consider applying for Social Security Disability Benefits. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will look at your case individually to determine if your condition is severe enough to qualify for benefits.

Can a employee be terminated due to mental health? ›

It is possible lawfully to terminate the employment of an employee who has a mental illness. However, there are a number of matters that need to be considered, and steps that need to be taken, by an employer before deciding to terminate the employment of an employee in these circumstances.

What are 3 ways employers can accommodate mental illness in the workplace? ›

Flexible scheduling • Flexibility in the start or end of working hours to accommodate effects of medication or for medical appointments. Part-time work (which may be used to return a worker to full-time employment). More frequent breaks. Changes in supervision • Modifying the way instructions and feedback are given.

How much does a specialist at CMHC make? ›

The typical Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) Specialist salary is $99,000 per year. Specialist salaries at Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) can range from $80,000 - $110,004 per year.

Is CMHC a good place to work? ›

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has an overall rating of 4.0 out of 5, based on over 287 reviews left anonymously by employees. 73% of employees would recommend working at Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) to a friend and 72% have a positive outlook for the business.

What are 3 types of mental health professionals? ›

Counselors, Clinicians, Therapists

These masters-level health care professionals are trained to evaluate a person's mental health and use therapeutic techniques based on specific training programs.

What are the responsibilities of employer under the duty of care? ›

Duty of care

the work environment, systems of work, machinery and equipment are safe and properly maintained. information, training, instruction and supervision are provided. adequate workplace facilities are available for workers. any accommodation you provide to your workers is safe.

What are the duty of care obligations for employees in a workplace? ›

While at work a worker must: take reasonable care for their own health and safety. take reasonable care for the health and safety of others. comply with any reasonable instructions, policies and procedure given by their employer, business or controller of the workplace.

What does an employer's duty of care to their employees consist of? ›

An employer's duty of care to their team requires that they create a safe work environment by mitigating risks to physical, mental, and emotional health. In turn, an employee's duty of care to their boss requires that they avoid taking unnecessary risks and that they care for themselves, too.

What type of mental health counselor makes the most money? ›

Five of the hottest and highest-paying counseling jobs today
  • School Counselor. ...
  • Career Counselor. ...
  • Mental Health, Marriage, and Family Counselor. ...
  • Rehabilitation Counselor. ...
  • Gerontological Counselor.

What is the minimum salary for a mental health specialist? ›

Mental health specialists on the lower end of that spectrum, the bottom 10% to be exact, make roughly $31,000 a year, while the top 10% makes $71,000. Location impacts how much a mental health specialist can expect to make.

What is the lowest salary of mental health counselor? ›

How Much Does a Mental Health Counselor Make? Mental Health Counselors made a median salary of $49,130 in 2021. The best-paid 25% made $69,260 that year, while the lowest-paid 25% made $38,630.

What is the happiest high paying job? ›

The happiest jobs that pay well include software engineers, high school teachers, nurses, medical assistants, and graphic designers. Most of these jobs pay an annual salary of more than $50,000.

What salaries and benefits are common for careers in the mental health pathway? ›

The annual median wage for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors was $48,520 in May 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The top 10% of these professionals earned a median $77,980, with the bottom 10% bringing in $30,870.

What jobs are good for people with mental illness? ›

Other Jobs for Mentally Ill People
  • Welding—$37,477.
  • Plumber—$50,000.
  • Massage Therapy—$41,729.
  • Paralegal—$52,351.
  • Biostatistician—$92,426.
  • Entrepreneur—$57,360.
  • Assistant Engineer—$69,296.
  • Veterinary Assistant—$31,659.
Feb 24, 2023

What are two workplace issues that can affect the mental health of an employee? ›

Workplace mental health can be affected by a range of issues, including work-related stress, workplace bullying and work-life balance.

Why won't employees use mental health benefits? ›

They are overshadowed by the medical-benefits program and often missed in major benefits communications.” In other cases, workers are reluctant to tap company-sponsored resources, fearing there could be repercussions if their employer finds out they have depression, anxiety or another mental illness.

Does anxiety and depression count as a disability? ›

The good news is that those with either depression and anxiety can qualify for SSDI benefits. The Social Security Administration has a process for evaluating your right to collect Social Security disability benefits based on claims of a mental health problem.

What do you need to study to work in a mental hospital? ›

You might be able to do a degree in mental health nursing and social work. You'll need to check that the course is recognised by the relevant professional bodies. You might be able to join the second year of a nursing degree if you already have a degree in: a health-related subject.

What is a Level 2 qualification in mental health? ›

Level 2 Course in Awareness of Mental Health Problems

This fully online course will help you gain new knowledge and skills for your personal life as well as your career. It covers lots of different mental health problems, including stress, anxiety, phobias, depression, dementia, eating disorders and schizophrenia.

How to get a job with severe mental illness? ›

How to Get a Job Despite Your Mental Health Condition
  1. Think about what you need. Looking for work takes a lot of effort and energy. ...
  2. Look at unconventional options. ...
  3. Know your worth. ...
  4. Show your best self. ...
  5. Take things one day at a time. ...
  6. Consider whether to disclose. ...
  7. Take advantage of accommodations.
Jul 1, 2020

How do I start working as a support worker? ›

Qualifications to be a support worker
  1. Complete a vocational qualification in disability or community services. ...
  2. Ensure you have up-to-date immunisations (as required), and.
  3. complete certifications and checks such as a First Aid Certificate, Working with Children Check, Police Check, and NDIS Worker Screening Check.
Aug 2, 2022

Can you be a mental health worker without a degree? ›

What Qualifications Do I Need? There aren't any set entry requirements to become a Mental Health Support Worker, but employers are more commonly necessitating qualifications in healthcare or mental health, and/or relevant experience.

How do you qualify as a mental health social worker? ›

take a postgraduate qualification (Diploma or Masters) in social work. Courses take two years full time or up to six years part time. train through Step up to Social Work which takes 14 months and combines work and study.

How much does a mental health worker get paid per hour? ›

While ZipRecruiter is seeing hourly wages as high as $25.48 and as low as $9.62, the majority of Mental Health Worker wages currently range between $14.42 (25th percentile) to $19.23 (75th percentile) across the United States.

How much does a mental health worker get paid in CA? ›

The average salary for a mental health worker in California is $32,500 per year. Mental health worker salaries in California can vary between $17,000 to $64,500 and depend on various factors, including skills, experience, employer, bonuses, tips, and more.

Who are the highest paid health workers in USA? ›

Anesthesiologists and surgeons earn the highest income among doctors. According to Payscale August 2022 data, anesthesiologists earn an average of $307,740, and surgeons earn an average of $287,500 as of July 2022 data.

What type of mental illness qualifies for disability? ›

Any mental illness that prevents you from working can qualify for disability benefits. Amongst the most common are anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, developmental disorders, autism spectrum disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and schizophrenia spectrum disorders.

How much is mental disability benefits? ›

Disability benefits for mental health condition also varies depending on if the person on disability receives SSI or SSDI benefits. The average SSI payment for adults in 2021 is $586 per month and the average SSDI payment for adults in 2021 is $1,277.

How hard is it to get disability for mental illness? ›

If your medical records contain evidence of a severe mental illness, you might qualify for Social Security disability. About a quarter of applicants for Social Security benefits list mental health illnesses or disorders as their primary disabling medical conditions.

What can I say instead of I got fired? ›

If you prefer, you can simply write "job ended," "laid off," or "terminated" on your job application. This is recommended since your goal with your application and resume is to get an interview.

Can you be fired for being mentally unstable? ›

The Americans with Disabilities Acts (ADA) protects employees from discrimination based on a disability—including mental health conditions like depression or anxiety.

What are the employer's responsibilities in relation to mental health in the workplace? ›

Employers should ensure they have an effective framework in place to support people's mental health, and offer sources of help such as counselling, an employee assistance programme and occupational health services where possible.

What is the employer's role in employee mental health? ›

Leaders' responsibilities may include monitoring employee well-being and mental health needs, examining benefits and ensuring access to treatment, and overseeing mental health-related workplace programs.

What is the Mental Health Commission and what is it responsible for? ›

The Mental Health Commission, established under the Mental Health Act 2001, is a statutory, independent body with a dual mandate – to protect the rights of detained patients and to promote, encourage and foster high standards in the delivery of mental health care.

What type of company is Mental Health Commission of Canada? ›

The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) is a national non-profit organization created by the Canadian government in 2007 in response to a senate committee tasked to study mental health, mental illness, and addiction.

What is the workplace mental health pledge? ›

By signing this pledge, I commit to playing my part by making mental health a visible priority in every region in which we operate. My organisation will: Develop and deliver an action plan to support good mental health in our organisation.

What is the Mental Health Commission of Canada making the case for peer support? ›

Making the Case for Peer Support recommends targeting a percentage of mental health funding for peer support and funding independent initiatives as well as those located within mainstream mental health organizations. This will help peer support to become foundational to mental health services.

What are the two important roles of jobs of the Mental Health Commission? ›

The Commission's functions are to promote, encourage and foster high standards and good practices in the delivery of mental health services and to protect the interests of people who are detained in approved psychiatric centres.

What is the High Level Commission on mental health? ›

About the Commission

The Pan American Health Organization has established the High-level Commission on Mental Health and COVID-19 to support the Organization and its Member States in improving and strengthening mental health across the Americas, both during the pandemic and for the future.

What are the 4 major goals of the WHO's comprehensive mental health action? ›

The original four major objectives remain unchanged: more effective leadership and governance for mental health; the provision of comprehensive, integrated mental health and social care services in community-based settings; implementation of strategies for promotion and prevention; and strengthened information systems, ...

How much does Mental Health Commission of Canada pay? ›

Mental Health Commission of Canada Salary FAQs

The average Mental Health Commission of Canada salary ranges from approximately $57,776 per year for a Program Coordinator to $73,459 per year for a Program Manager.

What is the goal of the Mental Health Commission of Canada? ›

It aims to help improve the mental health and well-being of all people living in Canada, and to create a mental health system that can truly meet the needs of people living with mental health problems and illnesses and their families.

Which professional group is the largest provider for mental health services? ›

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), professional social workers are the nation's largest group of mental health services providers.

What are the benefits of mental health program in the workplace? ›

Employers can offer a mental health program that is designed to help identify and support individuals going through mental health crises. The program can also help employees communicate with those with mental disorders better and teach them how to provide the appropriate support.

What are mental well being programs for employees? ›

Employee Assistance Program (EAP)

A program for confidential psychological intervention service intended for employees dealing with mental health difficulties in the workplace.

What do the national practice standards for the mental health workforce cover? ›

The standards are: Rights, responsibilities, safety and privacy. Working with people, families and carers in recovery-focused ways. Meeting diverse needs.

What are the benefits of peer support workers in mental health? ›

Research shows that peer support can improve people's well-being, meaning they have fewer hospital stays, larger support networks, and better self-esteem, confidence and social skills.

What are the benefits of peer support in mental health? ›

Research by the Mental Health Foundation shows that peer support can significantly improve people's wellbeing, meaning they have fewer hospital stays, larger support networks, and better self-esteem and social skills.

What is the Joint Commission on mental illness and mental health? ›

The Joint Commission on Mental Illness and Health received a mandate from Congress to survey the resources and to make recommendations for combating mental illness in the United States. An extensive study has been made by experts under the sponsorship of the thirty-six organizations making up the Commission.


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