FREDERICTON (GNB) – The following message was issued today by Randy Dickinson, chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission:

This Saturday, Oct. 10, is World Mental Health Day. First observed in 1992, the day promotes open discussion of mental disabilities with a focus on education, awareness and advocacy. The origin of this special day can be traced back to another Canadian pioneer, George Brock Chisholm, whose efforts as the first Director-General of the World Health Organization helped raise the profile of mental health.

Today, World Mental Health Day is recognized in more than 150 countries around the world and seeks to broaden our understanding of mental health issues. This year the emphasis is on reducing the stigma around mental disabilities. A popular hashtag #IamStigmaFree has been circulating online since May and has been used to share people’s experiences with mental health issues all over social media.

Mental health and human rights are linked in many ways. We know that discrimination, harassment and bullying often lead to mental health conditions. A person who is harassed or bullied may have to take stress leave from work or school or undergo therapy. Bullying can contribute to low esteem, depression and even suicide. We also know of the mental health consequences when someone is unemployed, whether due to discrimination or otherwise.

The New Brunswick Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on mental disability in employment, housing, services, professional associations and publicity. Mental disability is the second most frequent ground among the complaints filed with the Human Rights Commission. It represents about a quarter of our caseload.

Under the New Brunswick Human Rights Act mental disability includes mental illness, intellectual impairment and learning disabilities. Typical cases that come to the commission concern employees who have been dismissed due to taking medical leave for depression or suffering from burnout, or a student with autism who was not sufficiently accommodated in school.

Our act also prescribes that an employer must accommodate employees with a physical or mental disability if it can be done without causing undue hardship to the employer. In most cases, the employer must keep a position open so that the employee may return to work when he or she recovers. In some cases, it might mean resuming work gradually. The Human Rights Commission has published a guideline explaining how the Human Rights Act applies to employees with a physical or mental disability, as well as a guideline on accommodating students with a disability. They are available on our website.

So, I encourage all New Brunswickers to promote mental health by countering the stigma of mental illness, by engaging others in conversations about mental health issues, and by accommodating the needs of those who face mental health problems.