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Work environment must not hinder people with mental illness: Michael Landsberg

By Amanda Silliker
| www.cos-mag.com

Every employer has a duty to ensure its work environment does not hurt the chances of advancement for workers who are suffering a mental illness, according to Michael Landsberg, speaking at the Partners in Prevention conference in Mississauga, Ont.

“I’m not telling you that that’s easy, but I am telling you 100 per cent, if you have 20 people in your company who are struggling in silence, I guarantee you at least half of them are thinking ‘I can’t go to HR, I can’t go to my administrator, I can’t go to my boss because if I do, all of a sudden I will be seen as being weak, as being maybe not worthy of advancement, I will be seen in a different way,” said Landsberg, who has been battling mental illness and depression for most of his life. Landsberg was a keynote speaker at the conference on April 29, presented by Workplace Safety & Prevention Services.

To rectify this, it’s the job of the employer and health and safety professionals to put safeguards in place that will prevent a mental illness from being held against an employee.

The most important thing is dialogue, said Landsberg. Employers should strive for a workplace where mental health issues are discussed just the way physical illnesses are discussed. He acknowledged it was easy for him to open up about his mental illness, but it might be much harder for others because admitting to work that you have a mental illness is “incredibly difficult.”

“I know it’s easuer for me because A) I am a professional communicator and B) I am in the stage of my life where I’m not worried about what my employer is going to say. I am established enough in my career that I am nto afraid of how my image will be changed if I share,” he said.

For employees who are suffering a mental illness, the best way to deal with it is to be open and honest and tell people what you need from them, said Landsberg. For example, one man in the audience who spoke about his own depression said he would take his watch off in a meeting to signal to close co-workers that he was “slipping.” This alerted his co-workers that they needed to take action.

Landsberg called out the difficulties involved with going on anti-depressant medication. He said the two to three weeks between when starting the mediation to when it actually starts working are extremelt difficult.

“That was the hardest point in my life, without question,” he said. “You have this unbelievable fear that everything is at stake. You say to yourself ‘You know, I’m so sick right now that living brings me no joy, but medication could help, but it doesn’t help everyone, so what if I am that one person in four that doesn’t get help by medication?’ You start to fear this is your last resort.”

Landsberg’s symptoms were aggravated even more in that three-week period. For him, he says it made him more mentally ill in the short term than he was in the first place.

“If you work with people starting on medication, respect the fact that they are going through hell.”

Photo courtesy of Workplace Safety & Prevention Services

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