Mental Health Issues How to handle with the members

These strategies can help you have supportive conversations with employees and avoid triggering negative reactions.

Prioritize confidentiality and anonymity. Even though mental health might be normalized in their workplace, some members might still feel uncomfortable discussing it, particularly if they struggle with addiction, trauma, or suicidal thoughts. Reassure your members that their privacy is your top concern, and that their use of mental health resources will never be monitored or tracked.

  1. Get the information you need, but don’t pry. Respecting privacy is key. Unless the finer details of a mental health issue – especially atraumatic event – are necessary for your work, don’t feel the need to get into the details. If you do need this information, it may be better to refer the member to their mental health treatment professional to obtain the details in a safe and controlled setting.
  2. Listen first to understand the employee’s perspective and emotional state. Seek clarification to ensure your understanding of their perspective is correct. Do not agree or disagree. Simply confirm that you understand their perspective.
  3. Engage the employee to focus on solutions that support them to do their job well. While your role as the leader is to ensure the solutions also meet the job role’s goals and objectives, employees are much more likely to commit to long-term outcomes when they take a lead in developing solutions. 
  4. Choose the most effective communication style for the situation. Becoming adept in choosing from a variety of approaches allows you to pivot when your chosen style isn’t working effectively. Learn to take responsibility rather than blame for communication difficulties by acknowledging the conversation is going in the wrong direction and asking if you can try again. At this point, choose a different approach to reset the conversation in the right direction. Ask the member what method they prefer. Some people love to chat on the phone for others; for others, the thought of talking on the phone can send them into a panic. Be flexible and work in ways that allow the member to engage.
  5. Focus on the positive. Mental illness is a serious issue, but it can still be addressed in a way that makes people feel understood, appreciated, and hopeful. Always remember to leave your members feeling like they have a clear plan of action ahead to resolve it.
  6. Help set specific goals, that are realistic and can be approached one step at a time.
  7. Set specific timelines. This applies for both the member and yourself. Some structure is good for keeping efforts focused on the end goal, instead of what happened to the member.
  8. Don’t assume you know what the person needs. Ask how you can help. Listen carefully to the response.
  9. Provide emotional support. You can play an important role in helping someone who’s not feeling well feel less alone and ashamed. They are not to blame for their illness, but they may feel that they are. Help encourage hope.
  10. Ultimately, your goal is to support employees develop a plan for their own success. Your language and communication style are critical to doing this well. 
  11. Raise the possibility of providing accommodations if needed.
  12. Provide access to an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and remind them of their treatment coverage under the PSHCP.
  13. Assure the employee that meetings with an EAP provider are confidential.
  14. The employer has a duty to accommodate employees with disabilities. Employers must make changes to workplaces or jobs when a worker needs them to perform their work. For workers with mental health disabilities, this can mean a graduated return to work, flexible work hours, or the reduction of stressors in the workplace.
  15. If the employer doesn’t provide the worker with accommodation, the worker can file a grievance and/or an internal complaint.
  16. People with mental health disabilities often face stigma and discrimination in the workplace. Human rights legislation and our collective agreements prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities, which includes mental health disabilities. If you have faced discrimination at work through unfair treatment, harassment, or the denial of accommodation, speak to your component representative about filing a grievance and a complaint under the Canadian Human Rights Commission. 

This web site below is a good web site with good tools that was provided it to me by a good friend psychologist.

Mental Health: Identifying the Signs and Getting Help

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, on average, one in five Canadians experiences a mental health problem or illness in their lifetime. Mental health problems and illness are the number one cause of disability in Canada. Psychological illness impacts the greatest number of people in the middle of their working years, which lowers the productivity of the labour force.

Some of these mental health issues arise from the workplace, through:

  • Job stress
  • Technological concerns
  • Workload or Work-Life Balance
  • Violence (such as bullying and harassment)

Statistics Canada studies have indicated that 47% of working Canadians consider their work the most stressful part of their day and life. Odds are you may come across co-workers suffering from mental health and/or demonstrating symptoms of mental illness. Here are tips to guide you.

Identify the Signs

Identifying these signs is not conclusive and must be determined by a certified mental health professional:

  • Withdrawal
  • Drop in productivity
  • Problems with concentration and thinking
  • Heightened sensitivity to stimuli (lights, smells, sounds, etc.)
  • Apathy for workplace, coworkers
  • Illusions/suspicions of intentional exclusion, targeting or paranoia
  • Anxiety, nervousness
  • Uncharacteristic or unusual behaviour
  • Sleep and appetite shifts; decline in personal hygiene
  • Dramatic and sudden mood changes; polarity in emotions

How Can You Help a Co-Worker Exhibiting Signs of Mental Illness or Suffering from a Mental Illness?

  • Ask them how you can help them
  • Practice E.A.R.: Empathy, Attentiveness and Respect
  • Keep an open mind and exercise active listening
  • Refrain from judgment: they need you as a confidant for support not as a judge
  • Encourage them to seek professional help or professional assessment
  • Continue to include them in activities and outings
  • Make them feel welcome upon their return to work (if they have taken leave)

Federal Employers

Federal employers abide by the Canada Labour Code (Part II) and the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations. OH&S and Mental Health:  Fact sheets

Departments under Treasury Board

Departments under Treasury Board abide by the Canada Labour Code (Part II) and the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations. In addition, Treasury Board has created supplementary policies and directives via the Public Service Occupational Health Program

Do and Don’t for Stewards


  • Practice E.A.R: Empathy, Attentiveness and Respect; keeping an open mind and exercising active listening will facilitate communication.
  • Establish the safety parameters of the employee and the workplace: Are they a threat to themselves or others? Is the workplace safe for the member?
  • Imminent threat to self or others is to be reported to 9-1-1 immediately (mental health crises, physical violence, criminal offenses).
  • Consult with your appointed Labour Relations Officer (LRO) and keep them informed (i.e., development of case, escalation of care, severity of matter).
  • Familiarize yourself with services, National and Provincial programs, support networks, help lines.
  • Persevere. Mental Health Matters are sensitive by nature and can be emotionally charged. Seek help from your union network.
  • Advocate for mental health awareness in the workplace and harassment-free environment.
  • Provide the member with all options for recourse and available assistance.
  • Enforce your Duty to Fair Representation (DFR).
  • Protect timelines.
  • Refer to the Steward Guide for steward roles.
  • Record interactions with all involved: employer, member, witnesses.
  • Safeguard documentation: emails, journals, notes.
  • In instances where you feel uncomfortable or unequipped to undertake mental health related cases, ensure you have referred your member to another union representative (Ex. Your Regional Vice-President, or UVAE Mental Health Champion).
  • Know When to Ask for Assistance:
    • Benefit from the PSAC (UVAE) Steward Network (e.g., Chief Stewards, Group Executives, Consultation Teams).
    • Contact your Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Representative.


  • Do not act in the role of a Mental Health Professional and/or Counsellor.
  • Do not diagnose a member’s psychological state.
  • Do not breach confidentiality (unless an imminent threat is established).
  • Do not impose recourses or unsolicited advice/solutions onto the member.
  • Do not underestimate the seriousness of Mental Health issues and cases pertaining to Mental Health in the workplace.
  • Do not use inflammatory or loaded language: it may escalate the issue.
  • Do not act in a manner that is arbitrary, discriminatory or in bad faith.
  • Do not ignore and/or avoid members. Every matter must be addressed even if it entails referring the member(s) to a more appropriate representative.

Self-Help Contacts

E-Mental Health

Mental health services, therapist/counsellor contacts, help and support in your community.

Job Stress and Anxiety

Anxiety Disorders Association of Canada

For assistance or to locate your nearest crisis centre: 1-800-64-PANIC

Suicide Prevention

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention (CASP): Hope. Help. Healing.

CASP provides information and resources to reduce the suicide rate and minimize harmful consequences of suicidal behaviour. They also provide contact information for Crisis Centres throughout Canada:

If your life is in danger or you know someone’s life is in danger DIAL 9-1-1 now.

The LifeLine Canada Foundation: Hope. Love. Support. The Foundation provides a wealth of information, awareness education, and prevention strategies to guide people in crisis. The app and website offer immediate access to guidance and support for those suffering in crisis and those who have suffered the devastating loss of a loved one from suicide. Download the app and find more information

Additional Resources

Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC)

Guarding Minds @ Work  (GM@W) is a unique, free and comprehensive set of resources designed to protect and promote psychological health and safety in the workplace.

Download: Together Against Stigma: Changing How We See Mental Illness (pdf)
GM@W: 1-800-668-4284

MHCC launched the “National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace”. The Standard provides a framework for:

  • Assessing psychological risks in the workplace
  • Preventing risks or lessening their impact
  • Improving psychological health and safety outcomes
  • Monitoring the results.