Mental health awareness in the workplace has finally started to get the attention it deserves in the last few years. Unfortunately, some aspects of mental health are still surrounded in stigma.
One of these issues is substance abuse.
Addiction and substance abuse issues often go hand in hand with mental health issues. This is referred to as concurrent disorders, or dual diagnosis.
The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse reports that substance abuse and addictions cost the Canadian economy $24.3 billion dollars in lost productivity. This is clearly an issue that needs to be addressed in the workplace.
One of the first steps is knowing the signs of substance addiction, something workplace leaders should be equipped with. These include an increase in days missed, tardiness, missed deadlines, presenteeism, change in appearance, increased irritability and errors in judgement.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, it is important to not push this employee out of the workplace, but rather ensure that ‘managers and teams are supportive’.
Having a ‘detailed substance abuse policy’ allows managers and employers to talk to employees about these issues. They can offer resources and figure out a way to get the employee the support they need.
If you are unionized, your shop steward or business agent is someone you can reach out to for support – whether it is you who has the substance issue or you think a coworker does. Being in a union means you have the support of a family behind you.
Simply firing an employee is not the solution, and now can have legal consequences.
As recently reported in the Toronto Star, ‘Canada’s human rights tribunals and courts of appeal have started treating drug and alcohol dependency as a disability.’ If a worker is fired, or mistreated in anyway, by an employer because of their substance abuse issue they can often be protected the same way someone with a disability would be.
Although no federal or provincial laws state that substance abuse is a disability, human rights commissions in Canada have set precedents over the past 10 years.
Mental health support in the workplace is something Teamsters Local 362 has fought for, and this includes those who have dual diagnosis.
Following the momentum of our previous mental health initiative, Make It Mandatory, this year we created the campaign #YouAreNotAlone with the aim of raising awareness and preventing suicide in Alberta, and across the country.
In both series, many spoke of the impact of substance abuse issues on their life.
Local 362 has also taken this initiative further by actively bargaining mental health awareness courses into collective bargaining agreements.
No one should have to suffer in silence in the workplace when it comes to mental health or substance abuse issues.