Something is going on with our country’s public service employees – something that should worry all of us.
Last week, the Disability Insurance Plan's Board of Management was supposed to present its latest facts and figures at its annual meeting. The AGM was cancelled but the report that was to be presented was released anyway — and it shows an alarming problem with mental illness in the federal public service.
Disability claims from the country’s public servants accounted for nearly half of all the claims the organization received in 2011 — a whopping 48 per cent.
On any given day, 19,000 federal employees are booked off work on some kind of sick leave. Individually, they were absent 12.5 days last year — twice the average rate of employees in the private sector. In the core public service, however, workers are off 18 days a year, when you include paid and unpaid sick leave, workers' compensation and disability.
It seems that life as a public servant is nothing to cheer about.
In fact, it’s downright depressing — literally. Of all the claims filed last year, 23 per cent were for depression. Another six per cent were for recurrent depressive disorder.
Anxiety accounted for four per cent. Bipolar disorder accounted for two per cent, as did post-traumatic stress disorder.
At last count, about 11,000 public servants were collecting disability benefits.
Skeptics will question the numbers, going so far as to suggest that some of the workers are simply looking for a way to stay home while still getting paid, they’re just “working the system.”
But that kind of attitude serves no one. What we need to do is figure out why so many federal employees are suffering mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. Is it the workplace? Have there been so many cuts to the federal force, we’ve created an environment of fear and doom? There’s nothing quite like constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The management board overseeing the disability insurance plan has long warned the plan, close to 45 years old, is so archaic that the benefits aren't helping a growing number of sick and disabled public servants to get better and back to work.
The system needs an overhaul, that’s clear. Let’s hope it gets one that’s focused more on prevention and wellness than on writing disability cheques.
We Say editorials represent the viewpoint of The Daily News and are written by editor Robert Koopmans, city editor Tracy Gilchrist, news editor Mike Cornell or associate news editors Dan Spark and Mark Rogers.