One in five people is likely to experience mental illness at some point in their life – and this does not include friends or relatives or co-workers who can also be affected. Despite this, mental illness is a “hidden” disability. In workplaces, housing or services, where the need to accommodate people with physical disabilities is understood, there is often reluctance or even refusal to accommodate people with mental health disabilities.
There is growing awareness of the need to respond to mental health issues in an effective and coordinated way. Some of our work in this area was prompted by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario’s decision in a case argued by the Commission – Lane v. ADGA Group Consultants Inc. of Ottawa. That case, later upheld by the Divisional Court, reaffirmed that employees with mental health disabilities have a right to accommodation of their needs under Ontario’s Human Rights Code.
The OHRC is working with others to identify priorities and raise awareness. Finding out “who is doing what“ is an important step. With our legal resources and public inquiries mandate we can contribute in those areas. But we have also been told that guidance on how to apply the Human Rights Code in the area of mental health would be helpful.
In the summer of 2009, we began to seek public input on a Human Rights Mental Health Plan, which will include steps to address systemic human rights concerns. Initial consultations included consumer survivor groups, and individuals and organizations in the mental health field. A report on those conversations was created to gather public feedback on key issues that pose human rights concerns for people with mental health disabilities and addictions.
A draft plan was submitted for Commission approval in April 2010. More details will be added as we continue to work in this area, but the plan will include:
- Creating a policy on mental health
- Monitoring Tribunal applications for possible interventions and legal action
- Doing public education
- Proceeding with public interest inquiries
- Setting up partnerships with other organizations working in the mental health/addictions field.