When the POST began operating in the 1980s, before an official sign could be installed at the front of the building, people were hesitant to enter the store premises because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. Objectively, an individual would look at the store and only see a sign reading “Canadian Mental Health Association”. Some concerns were quoted to be that the store was run by people with ‘mental disorders’. It wasn’t until several years after its launch that the store uniquely identified itself as a supportive work environment. When an enterprise has a supported environment, it does exactly that – support people that need support.
Mental illness does not discriminate and it has no single cause. Anyone can experience mental illness some time in their life, or be mentally unwell for a temporary period of time. With or without an official diagnosis, it’s difficult to be a productive member of society in the midst of a mental health struggle. There are many reasons for why it’s difficult to be a normal member of society when someone is mentally ill: stigma surrounding mental illness not only isolates the ill individual, but also causes a lot of shame in the individual. Try to see it through your own eyes – if everyone is telling you that you are scary, dangerous, or crazy, will you feel confident enough to gain employment and therefore create financial stability to properly treat your illness? Most people if asked that question would say no.
Additionally, if someone is severely depressed as an example, they may be experiencing the physical symptoms of depression such as exhaustion, lack of focus, irritability, and a change in eating or sleeping habits. We are not our most productive or successful selves when we are mentally unhealthy, but we are still valuable members in society. At CMHA-ASER, we recognize that, and we’ve known it all along. We provide a work environment that is flexible, understanding, and therefore supportive enough for someone mentally ill to work hard and not be afraid of losing their sense of dignity or job security.
We are not the only organization or business that recognizes the potential in having staff with mental illness or handicap. Some Tim Hortons franchise owners have an 80/20 proportion, with the 80% of staff being special needs. One main potential reasoning for business owners catching on to the initiative is that individuals who are special needs or have a mental illness require structure, routine, and quality interaction to be successful. If a business owner can provide a basic structured role or routine for a staff member, they will excel at their position and in their mental health and self-esteem at no higher expense to the business owner.
Do not be mistaken, the POST expects a committed and go-getting attitude by the staff member regardless of their disability or mental illness. We do understand, however, that individuals currently in a bad spot sometimes need more direction and patience from their employer – which is what we pride ourselves on being able to provide. At CMHA-ASER, everyone deserves to feel successful, valid, and loved, while still running a retail business like any other.