Talking about Mental Health

I remember years ago when I had an upcoming interview for my first professional job in mental health. I asked a mentor, who had been my field placement advisor while I was working on my Master of Social Work degree, to go for lunch with me. I admitted I was a little uncertain about the position. Mental health was not something I had ever given a lot of thought to. And what did I know about schizophrenia?

At the time, I was not the only one who gave little thought to mental health. The public was largely unaware of the issue. The topic was mostly taboo and the stigma, as I found out, when I was successful in landing that job, was huge. In fact, while I was working on the mental health plan for Etobicoke, one of the former municipalities that was merged into Metro Toronto, stigma arose repeatedly as the most significant barrier for people who experienced mental health problems trying to access housing, jobs, services and social supports.

In response, I worked with one of our Board members who ran a video production company to produce Face-to-Face: Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Illness. The educational package included interviews with several people with mental illness talking about their experiences. These individuals were brave, speaking out at a time when few were open about their mental health. Endorsed by such notable Canadians as Timothy Findley, Liona Boyd as well as the social marketing firm Manifest Communications, we distributed the educational tool across the country to help increase people’s understanding of mental illnesses.

A lot has changed since those days. CAMH’s wonderful Transforming Lives campaign and the current Defeat Denial campaign have truly put mental health into the spotlight. So it was a delightful morning yesterday listening to the coverage by Metro Morning about the opening of Phase 2 of CAMH’s redevelopment. People, both well-known within Toronto and average citizens,  spoke openly about their mental illnesses and that of their family members. A philanthropist spoke about why he donated to the redevelopment and was open to having a building openly dedicated to his family–something that would never have happened when I first started working in the field.

Coming on the heels of my attending two days of discussing mental health in the workplace at the Conference Board of Canada’s Workplace Wellness and Mental Health conference, I am struck by how far we’ve come since that lunch with my mentor.

(Check back next week for some resources about mental health in the workplace that I learned about at the conference.)

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