Since work is an essential part of participation in society, the loss of paid employment can have serious psychosocial, as well as economic, effects. In setting forth this policy statement, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) recognizes that access to meaningful paid employment is a basic human right. In a fair and equitable nation, social justice demands government standards which promote full employment and programs which assist those who are unemployed.
A fundamental principle of CMHA is promotion of mental health in Canada. Implicit in the Association’s goals is advocacy for a social environment conducive to psychological and emotional well-being. Since the loss of a job is a major stressor, CMHA has a mandate speak out on this important mental health issue. In particular, this Association vigorously resists measures by any federal, provincial or municipal action, to reduce current unemployment and social assistance benefits for any sector of the Canadian population. The following principles address areas of particular importance:
- Unemployment raises not only economic questions, but also moral questions about the relationship between people and the means of production, as well as the right of every individual to freedom and the pursuit of happiness.
- Unemployment and poverty are urgent concerns of all Canadians. The presence of either or both may cause anxiety, depression and other emotional and family problems.
- Unemployed persons may lack the money to fulfill their own or their dependents’ requirements for food, clothing and shelter; such circumstances are stressful. Few people emerge from this psychologically unscathed.
- Unemployed persons may lose their sense of self-worth and belonging, within their family, their former workplace and their community.
- Since little or no priority is given to meeting their needs, the most seriously disadvantaged (e.g., the long-term, chronically mentally disabled) may suffer doubly in periods of economic restraint and deficit-reduction. Opportunities for vocational preparation and employment virtually disappear.
- The least powerful members of Canadian society — found among the disabled, women, visible minorities, immigrants, the young and the old — suffer greater losses during phases of unemployment. Every effort must be taken to ensure these individuals are not forced to subsidize larger economic goals at their own expense while the more affluent sectors escape without penalty.
- Job creation and work training programs must create worthwhile and fulfilling positions which lead to well-paying permanent jobs. Marginal minimum-wage employment should never be a goal of our society.
- Mandatory retirement must be abolished since it remains a vestige of ageist discrimination. Older Canadians must not be denied full participation in society.
- Unemployment is a phenomenon growing out of the economic system. Blaming or re-educating the individual will not make the problem disappear. Therefore it can be eradicated only if changes to the system are implemented.
- Any restrictions or reductions in unemployment benefits inevitably hurt the most those with marginal workforce participation. Care must be taken to protect benefits for the vulnerable, such as persons on maternity, parental, sick and disability leaves.
In summary, the issue of unemployment is of particular importance and urgency to the Canadian Mental Health Association since it identifies aspects of mental health problems which can be assaulted in a pro-active and prevention-oriented manner.