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News

Going Global with 7 Canadian Mental Health Examples by Her Excellency Sharon Johnston

October 5, 2014

In order to add my voice against the stigma associated with mental illness, I needed to learn more about the diagnostics and treatment of this health matter that affects one in five Canadians. Knowledge is best shared and so my ultimate goal is to connect people across Canada in order to share the innovation and best practices that I have seen. This journey has been truly amazing. On the occasion of Mental Illness Awareness Week, let me share some of what I have learned with you. 

During the past four years, I have met people with mental health issues and those who work in mental health care. The daily struggles experienced by those with mental illness were part of the ongoing conversations. Having visited many organizations across Canada I was struck by the dozens of innovative practices that serve to better the lives of those with mental illness: innovative programs for at-risk youth, outreach for rural residents, mental health care tailored for Aboriginal peoples and countless other interventions targeting specific mental health needs throughout in our country. 

I was impressed by organizations such as UNITY Charity, which has empowered 80 000 youth through artistic expressions such as oral poetry and popular hip-hop. 

The Rise Asset Development program founded by Sandra Rotman has helped youth with physical and mental health problems to learn entrepreneurial skills. Causeway Work Centre has profited from this program. 

I was inspired by Le Mûrier, in Montréal, and by “Cuisinons ensemble,” which improves the daily lives of individuals with mental illness by teaching them how to plan meals, purchase ingredients and cook. 

The necklace that I wore for the this year’s Canada Day celebration was designed and made by Audrey, who once lived a chaotic life and now runs re:Purpose out of Operation Come Home. This organization offers four other social enterprises, including BottleWorks, FarmWorks, BeadsWork and Buy Your Beau’s Online. 

Going back home to Sault Ste. Marie, I was welcomed with opened arms by people in charge of the Algoma Family Services and I was impressed by their integrated delivery model and the fact that they would NOT let anyone fall through the cracks and go without help. Several communities in Ontario have adopted the Algoma Model. 

In the City of Québec, at an organization called Le Pavois, I learned about this comprehensive program helping people who hear voices. Other countries have recently adopted the Pavois approach. 

Hinck-Dellcrest in Toronto provides a remarkable intervention for children with serious mental illness and helps to re-establish better family interaction. Its program has been translated into 35 different languages! 

I was delighted to learn that these seven organizations, out of the many I have visited over the past four years, will be included in the Mental Health Innovation Network (MHIN), a community of mental health innovators and researchers who share ideas to improve the lives of people with mental disorders. This platform is supported by Grand Challenges Canada, dedicated to supporting Bold Ideas with Big Impact in global health. 

The dedication, professionalism and passion that I have witnessed in each individual running and working in all the organizations I visited were remarkable. I cannot thank them enough for sharing a moment of their lives with me and for giving me such a great sense of the wonderful work they are doing. What they have learned will now be shared on a global network with researchers and practitioners from other countries. By sharing what we have learned with others, we improve the lives of those we care about. After all, isn’t this how we build a better world?

Sharon Johnston