Search This Blog

CCE in brief

My photo
Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Friday 21 September 2012

Mental Illness in the Public Sector: Tony Clement Had An Option


Pardon my English, but bullshit, Mr. Clement.  You're the Minister responsible for the mismanagement of the Slash-And-Burn Public Staff File - if not you, who? 
It's enough to drive you nuts - or at least, exacerbate depression and anxiety.  I really find it hard to fathom how, after a multi-faceted campaign to achieve majority government, Team Harper can be so silo-based in its thinking to not see how harmful their policy regimen is to Canada,  particularly given the commitment of folks like Stephen Harper himself and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty to addressing Canada's mental health crisis.
But we know what they're thinking - too many people are suckling at the government teat.  Broad ranging government services and regulations impede success.  It's a cut-throat world out there, survival of the fittest, etc.  People have to get tougher, take more responsibility and become more competitive to get ahead. 
Here's the thing - survival of the fittest isn't about everyone becoming tougher.  It's about the less competitive literally dying off.
That, really, is what suicide is.  Most people with suicidal ideation go through a horrendous, tortured internal process that chips away at their sense of self-worth.  They feel they have no value - in fact, all they do is place a burden on others.  Every minute is merely another eternity of enduring psychological agony and shame.  In essence, they don't feel like they're fit enough to be in society to such a strong degree that they feel the most responsible course of action is  to take themselves out of it.
What are some of the external factors that lead to suicidal ideation?
So, picture you've worked hard to get your law degree and secure a job but still feel as though you aren't doing enough to earn your keep.  In fact, you're even willing to cancel your vacation because you feel you'll be letting others down/not getting enoughdone if you take a break.  You already doubt yourself - then you have that doubt validated by your employer with an "affected" letter.
“We have stressed on a number of occasions (the cuts) will affect the lives of people, it will impact on not only them but the people around them as well as their individual circumstances. We are not talking about widgets. The people are real and they need to be treated with respect and dignity.”

How many of those receiving affected letters have families and mortgages?  How easy will it be for them to compete with younger folk on the job market that don't have responsibilities so can work longer hours and probably for lower wages?  Will these people worry about how to support their family, feel as though they have failed their duties?  What does this do to one's sense of self-worth?
The whole "keep home and work separate" meme is crap.  There is only one person; we can't switch work/life brains the way Mister Roger changes his shoes.  Just as the stresses a person faces at home will impact their performance at work, what happens at work impacts family life, too.  What happens to the individual at the centre of all this accumulated stress?  Their health, performance and relationships begin to suffer. 
As if it wasn't bad enough that the Harper Government is abdicating any sense of responsibility for mental health in its public sector employees, they are completely dropping the ball on mental health in the military.  How can we be thinking of war with Iran when we haven't dealt with the mental health of our troops
But back to Tony Clement.  We can already see the narrative he hopes to use emerging; people shouldn't bring their work home, this guy had problems unrelated to his work, so on and so forth.  Whatever mental health issues emerge in the public sector, it's got nothing to do with him.  In avoiding questions about whether he has read any reports about stress and anxiety levels among the public service since he started his cuts, Clement is trying to evade any personal responsibility for the consequence of his actions.  Of course, we knew this was coming - Team Harper has been strategically dismantling data since day one for the express purpose of unencumbering their policy decisions from the burden of fact.
Unless Clement has been living in a complete bubble, though, there's no way he could have avoided the countless studies out there tying workplace anxiety to mental health.  A fellow he might know by the name of Michael Kirby has dedicated a lot of time to the issue.  Besides, isn't one of his duties as President of the Treasury Board to table, in Parliament, reports, papers and operational documents?
If Clement has been pulling a Rob Ford and ignoring the content of his materials, there is still the fact that he committed, publicly, to a supportive and orderly staff transition.  Hell, I even sent him a template he could have built a plan on:
Craig Carter-Edwards@TonyclementCPC; if you're seriously looking into an exiting-staff transition strategy, feel free to crib from this (1)
You, sir, had an option that could have done a hell of a lot to prevent this uptick in anxiety and all its consequences.  Including this poor man's suicide.
Instead of leaving employees in the lurch and peeling the staff reduction bandaid off over a period of months, Clement could have created an orderly transition first and put more effort into making the reduction as quick as possible, allowing for people to move on and helping them to do so effectively.
That sounds a bit too much like enabling, though doesn't it?  Team Harper's whole mandate is about downloading responsibility and beating, not supporting, the other guy.  Their politics bleeds directly into their governance style, to Canada's detriment.  Folks, if you really feel that strongly against responsibility, don't run for office.  The job of leaders is to lead, not to abdicate. 
They still have a chance.  If he moves quickly, Clement can still put together a true staff transition plan and help stop this cognitive crisis in the public sector.  Likewise, Team Harper can still do as they've been advised and set up a comprehensive, national mental health strategy.  All the evidence points to the benefit both of these actions would have for the public.
Here's the challenge, though - implementing a proactive, national mental health strategy and providing supports for their workers goes against everything the Harper folk believe; survival of the fittest, centrally coordinated services are bad, government is the problem, not the solution, etc.  They can ignore the facts for only so long before more people start to suffer from their approach - something Clement has seen happen before.
They can either pursue their ideology or they can help prevent more mental health related tragedies, but they can't do both.
It must make them crazy to think about.

1 comment: