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Profs look to shed light on mental illness

Two UNBC professors and an alumnus collaborated for a recently published book entitled Mental Illness in the Workplace.
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Two UNBC professors and an alumnus collaborated for a recently published book entitled Mental Illness in the Workplace.

The book looks to provide practical information that employers and others can use to help identify and better understand issues around mental illness and how those issues can affect the work place.

This is the fourth book in which Dr. Henry Harder, health science professor at the University of Northern B.C., has made a contribution.

"At first it was about people with physical disabilities and their inability to go back to work, but as a psychologist I was often seeing people who had recovered physically but had various kinds of emotional overlays or other kinds of psychological issues that prevented them from getting back to work," said Harder, who has been in the field for 30 years.

The World Health Organization has listed depression as the next potential global epidemic for the last couple of years, said Harder, who is also the current B.C. Leadership Chair in Aboriginal Environmental Health at UNBC.

"People dealing with depression and anxiety issues in the workplace is a big factor and then we started hearing employers saying they don't know how to deal with these issues when they manifest in the workplace," said Harder.

In 2006, Harder started to put ideas together for the book.

He wanted to provide employers and unions guidelines on what to do for the employees.

Harder said he's got a pet peeve and that's when people make reference to something like depression and say it's a mental health issue.

"These are illnesses we're talking about and that's how they need to be addressed - what are we going to do to help these people with an illness," asked Harder. "Unfortunately, society has stigmatized it so that when we're talking about mental illness it's characterized as a personal weakness."

In the book, co-authored by Harder, Dr. Shannon Wagner health science professor at the university and UNBC alumnus Josh Rash, who is now a University of Calgary PhD candidate, address issues like the scope of mental illness, toxic work environment, and specifically post traumatic stress disorder.

In the book, there are examples given and solutions presented for the problems.

"The most important point is that issues need to come to the surface and get talked about and if it's allowed to fester underneath the surface then things don't change and people become very unhappy," said Harder. "If things don't change in a toxic work environment that's an incubator for those issues."

It's also important for people to know that there is legislation in place that protects people with disabilities and that includes mental issues.

"In B.C. in particular we have Bill 14, which talks about mental stress and mental disorders and they are now compensable under WorkSafe BC," said Harder. "It's not an easy process for people to go through but it is a possibility."

The book is published by Gower Publishing and is part of the Psychological and Behavioral Aspects of Risk series.

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