Mood Disorders Association of Ontario


Up to 20% of your workforce will suffer from a mood disorder at some point. Executives, managers, and co-workers all have a role to play in reducing stigma, encouraging conversation, and opening the door to prevention, treatment and return to work. The Mood Disorders Association of Ontario helps improve awareness, and ensure education and training, family and youth clinical support, recovery programs, and peer support are available to those in need. By mid-2011, the MDAO is launching an innovative online tool to help people plan for their recovery.

Interview with Karen Liberman,
Executive Director Mood Disorders Association of Ontario

1. What are some of the issues you see in the workplace regarding mental health?

Employers have been focused on what I believe is very downstream thinking. Over time, there have been premium increases as more and more people go off on disability. Mental health claims are the largest drivers of disability. We spend billions of dollars at that very downstream place – the place where people are very sick and all the systems that are brought to bear to help them come back to work are very expensive.
For me, this is the world gone inside out. We know people do not wake up one day with a mood disorder and then the next day they’re off sick and on disability. It takes an enormous amount of time before a person becomes sick enough that this whole disability system kicks in. And it’s during all that wasted time, sometimes years and years, that we are not intervening soon enough to get people the help they need.

2. Are employers afraid to intervene?

Absolutely. It’s one of those dichotomies that leave you shaking your head. On one hand we have employers falling all over themselves, saying what a huge issue it is and the mental health of employees is so important. And then there’s this kind of chasm around what we’re actually going to do. On the ground, people don’t often know what to do.

3. So what can employers do?

There’s a huge movement now around psychologically safe and healthy workplaces, spearheaded by Dr. Martin Shain (see Doctor on Call). That movement, to me, is comparable to the occupational health and safety movement of the last 30 years. It’s a burgeoning area of expertise.
When I talk about safety, I talk about safe environments in which people who have these illnesses can find support. Not disclose, necessarily, but at least find help and find help earlier. And actually getting help mustn’t be just dependent on the employee. When you are very sick with depression or anxiety or bipolar, it is very difficult to reach out because everything in the illness tells you to get under the covers and stay there.

4. Who, ultimately, is responsible for helping employees who may be struggling? Is it the managers?

This is very nuanced; I recognize that. So when you ask me whose responsibility it is, I’m going to tell you it is absolutely everybody’s responsibility, including the person who is struggling.
At the very top, we have the CEO and senior managers, who are setting the cultural tone for their employees. What kind of cultural tone is it that when people are struggling we get rid of them? What kind of workplace is it if your drug coverage is severely restricted? The employer sets the tone, and states and then lives the importance of this issue.
Supervisors and managers are at the forefront of one-on-one intervention. They’re the people who’ve got to find the courage, the language, the training to be able to talk to employees. We teach managers and supervisors to document and articulate observable change, to help people share that something is not well, and then have all the resources available so someone can get help. It’s also their legal responsibility at that point to open the discussion about accommodation.
Co-workers have a responsibility too. They’ll be very severely and negatively impacted when someone is struggling with a mood disorder. They also need to learn to become comfortable with approaching those employees with confidence, compassion and comfort.
And, finally, for those of us who struggle, it’s our responsibility. We need to become mental health literate.

5. Tell us about MDAO’s mental health MAP.

It stands for My Action Plan. It’s an anonymous, free, confidential, online recovery tool. People can create their own unique recovery action plan. The quizzes, the checklists and the choices are built around 12 different modules, including getting an accurate diagnosis, finding treatment, coping in the workplace, how to deal with family and friends, and crisis planning.
Each module is liberally sprinkled with videos from coaches, experts such as psychiatrists, psychologists, dieticians, social workers, family doctors, and exercise physiologists. They’re all working to help those who suffer understand why it’s so important not to be just a victim of these illnesses, but to plan their own recovery.
We’re in the process of building all the content and we’re scheduled to launch in May 2011. The information will be featured on but also widely available through social media. Tell everyone to take a look.


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