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Disability, Mental Health, and the Canadian Public Service

Debra Sunohara

Today the Ottawa Citizen featured a front-page article, “PS disability claims soaring”.

Its timely release dovetails nicely with our discussion in Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Illness in the Workplace, and also the issues discussed in a previous  post that is still generating a  lot of interest:  Canada’s Public Service: A Career for the Net Generation?.


The Citizen article highlights the findings delivered in a report produced by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC).  Of note is the increase in disability claims by federal public servants in 2010, with 3,874 public servants filing for disability last year, an increase of more than 16% over 2009 claims.

According to the report, 16 out of 1,000 servants claimed disability last year compared to 13.78 out of 1,000 in 2009. More shocking, the incidence rate is up 35% since 2000, and we now have 11,100 public servants collecting disability benefits.

Mental Health and Women Lead

Mental health conditions resulted in 47.3% of the approved claims in 2010 - depression and anxiety being the most common illnesses.

These numbers are the highest in the history of the disability plan.

Furthermore, women made 70.5% of the approved disability claims, even though they make up just over half of all federal public servants. 

Time to Acknowledge the Challenges

The recent release of both the Conference Board of Canada Report on Building Mentally Healthy Workplaces and the PSAC Report as described in the Citizen highlights the urgent need to address the issue of mental health in the workplace.

The challenges associated with mental illness, a growing cadre of disabled workers, and a potentially toxic workplace are not trivial.  And, against the backdrop of funding cuts and potential workforce reductions, these issues will only become more difficult for managers as they seek new efficiencies and process improvements as they are forced to do more with less.

What do you think?

If you haven’t already read the Ottawa Citizen article, we encourage you to do so and would love to hear your thoughts on these complex issues.

Do you feel that you, other managers, or your employees have been provided with the information, training and resources needed to successfully deal with mental health issues in the workplace? What do you think should be done to improve these alarming statistics?


This is such a critical issue to our national government’s sustainability—no more so than in the current need to reduce government expenditures to eliminate the deficit.

My concern is that further cuts backs will only exacerbate the problem unless there are concerted efforts to “work smarter”.

By Alcide on 2011/06/29

I recall reading a report about a decade ago done by APEX on health issues affecting those in executibe positions in the federal government. It was a pretty bleak scene, which I would expect has steadily worsened. For those in the rest of the public service, there’s been a continuous deluge of reports, anecdotal reports, media columns, independent studies, etc. that are saying the same thing. Nothing is being done to addres the problem.

If the Canadian public were not so apathetic, they’d insist that the government address the crisis, if not for the humanitarian side then at least for the absolute waste of taxpayers money. It’s not just an issue of paying people out on sickleave, etc., but the dramatic impact on productivity.

Today’s Ottawa Citizen has a story on HRSDC and continuing problems relating to management. The story’s based on a report done by consulting firm Sussex Circle.

By Jim Taggart on 2011/07/06

Thank you for your thought provoking comments Jim and Alcide.

I too read the Citizen’s story on HRSDC this morning. What is surprising is how little the report findings it refers to surprise me and how we could easily substitute the name of so many other federal departments in HRSDC’s place. As you pinpointed so well, Jim, it is not that the government is unaware of mental health and other issues plaguing its public service it is that it seems perpetually skipping at the same place on the same record rather than doing something to improve the status quo.

By Debra on 2011/07/06

Debra, when you consider the new government spending cuts, uncertainty over future employment for public servants, the race to the bottom in the corporate world when it comes to employee pensions (what are the eventual impacts on the public service?), and issues such as inter-generational leadership and how Gen Y will copy in a dramatically change workplace in the span of a few years, I would expect to see a new report in two years showing even more sick-related leave, not to mention increased cases of harassment.

By Jim Taggart on 2011/07/06

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Posted by Debra Sunohara
Posted on June 29, 2011

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Categories: current events, hr & talent management, leadership, management, wellness