Mental health and addiction – stereotypes and discrimination

“There is still a stigma to mental health in the workplace. As a 40-year employee I have spent more energy hiding this disorder than I have in advancing my career.”

“Twenty years of no work is too much when I was able to work the whole time.”

“My husband called an ambulance to take me to the hospital; he was concerned for my welfare and couldn't drive me himself. I went willingly. Now I have an “apprehended under the Mental Health Act” on my vulnerable sector screening, with no further explanation... my depression almost five years ago in no way makes me a danger to vulnerable clients.”

“The message should be, if you’re in management, ‘how can I help you be successful in the job that you’re hired for?’ and to use that mindset, as opposed to ‘how can I protect you from overwork?’” 

“I find sometimes that mental health services can be very specific – if you do not fit in the category for what you need help with, then you fall through their cracks and lose the help you need.”

A surgeon said, “Had I known you were crazy, I wouldn’t have operated on you.”

“I worked in emergency services (as a paramedic) and they are very degrading towards mentally ill people. At lunch they would talk about having to go pick up another ‘crazy’ or ‘junkie’ and these are the people on the front line.”

“The school board said mental health is not their concern, right after another special needs boy killed himself last year.”

“I think because I don't have a visible disability many people think I'm faking it. It's so much work to fight for my accommodations that I usually end up dropping the course and that puts me even farther behind in school.”

“I once had a Children’s Aid Society worker tell me, ‘But you’re bipolar. How can you parent?’ This same worker admitted she did not believe parents with mental illness could parent.”

“I was desperate for a doctor and when I filled out the form she said that she did not accept patients who have a mental illness. I had to beg her and promise I would just come for a yearly physical to get my birth control pills.”

These are just some of the personal accounts included in Minds that matter, the OHRC’s report on its consultation on human rights, mental health and addictions. Released in September 2012, it outlines what the OHRC heard in its largest-ever policy consultation across Ontario – we received over 1,500 verbal and written submissions – and sets out key recommendations and OHRC commitments to address human rights issues that affect people with mental health disabilities or addictions.

We heard about widespread discrimination in housing, employment and services. People told us that stereotypes and negative societal perceptions are embedded in institutional policies and practices, individual attitudes and legislation.

We found that many organizations may not understand how to meet their responsibilities under the Human Rights Code to prevent and respond to this discrimination. At the same time, many people with mental health or addiction issues were not aware of how the Code protects them from discrimination under the ground of disability. We also heard that people have difficulty enforcing these rights. 

Societal factors can create the conditions for discrimination and exclusion. Poverty is a real barrier. People with mental health issues or addictions  are much more likely to have low incomes than people with other disabilities or without disabilities. This affects access to housing, services and job opportunities.

The report was written to reflect the experiences and perspectives of hundreds of people with mental health or addiction disabilities, as well as those of employers, housing and service providers, advocates and other groups. Overcoming discriminatory barriers requires the concerted efforts of law-makers, policy makers, and public and private institutions.

Minds that matter contains 54 recommendations for government and organizations across Ontario. For example, municipalities should review their zoning and housing licensing bylaws to make sure they do not treat housing for people with mental health issues or addictions any differently than other types of housing. We asked the Government of Ontario to fulfill its obligations under the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The report also makes 26 commitments to guide the OHRC’s activities. We will create a policy on human rights, mental health and addictions to give steps people and organizations across Ontario can take to prevent and eliminate existing barriers. We will also invite a psychiatric institution, and partners with human rights expertise in mental health, including consumer/survivor organizations, to take part in a large-scale organizational change process to address any human rights concerns in the way services are delivered.

We thank our launch partners

Several organizations helped us launch Minds that matter across Ontario. Each played an important part in helping us share what we heard about human rights, mental health and addictions. Thanks go to:

  • Ryerson University, Toronto
  • City of Ottawa
  • University of Ottawa
  • University of Windsor
  • North Bay Indian Friendship Centre.