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November 23, 2017

Vinay Sharma, speaking about mental health.

“No workplace is immune to mental illness,” said Vinay Sharma, National Representative, Health & Safety with UNIFOR. “Much like diabetes, heart disease or a broken leg – individuals can recover from mental illness, but it must be treated.”

Sharma was moderating Mental Health: Health & Safety / Workers’ Compensation Forum at the OFL convention on Thursday morning. He was joined by Terri Aversa, Health & Safety Officer with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, John Oudyk, Occupational Hygienist with the Occupational Health Clinics for Ontario Workers, Maryth Yachnin, staff lawyer with the Industrial Accident Victims’ Group of Ontario, and Jennifer Ralph, a paramedic.

Aversa told delegates that the approach to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) must be broadened and reminded everyone that trauma at work affects not just first responders, but all frontline workers. “But more than just trauma at work can lead to workplace mental health issues,” she said.

Oudyk said that it’s in everyone’s best interest – workers and employers – to address and prevent mental health issues caused by workplace stress. He used the example that workers under stress are more susceptible to physical injury on the job.

He also encouraged delegates to visit the Stress Assess website (www.stressassess.ca) and take the survey on psychosocial factors in the workplace.

Yachnin explained new legislation that is aimed at helping workers suffering from psychological injury and mental illness. She spoke about recent gains in terms of opening entitlements for workers who have chronic or traumatic mental stress and who suffer on the job, testing to prove. But she said the standard for proving injury is much higher, and the testing requirements are much more vigorous.

Sharma introduced Ralph, telling delegates: “It takes a lot of courage to share your own personal story publicly.”

The panel and the crowd applauded after Jennifer Ralph shared her experience with PTSD.

Ralph, an advanced-care paramedic in the Peel region for over 20 years, shared her emotional story of being diagnosed with PTSD as a result of years of work stress and trauma. She said it wasn’t one singular incident that caused her PTSD, but a whole career of witnessing traumatic events and injuries. She said there had always been a workplace culture that paramedics should deflect how they felt about the calls they attended, and sweep it all under the rug at the end of their shift, returning to their personal lives as if nothing had happened.

“We are still more reactive in the management of mental health injuries, than proactive. But the job description isn’t going to change,” she said. “It’s time we take care of each other.”

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