Four experts share the seven things we should all know about the efforts around improving mental health in Canada 

On Jan. 15, Sean Stanleigh, head of Globe Content Studio, moderated a MarTech Mornings panel on the role technology plays in mental health. 

We were joined by the following speakers:

  • Kristine Remedies, chief inclusion and diversity officer at KPMG in Canada
  • Lori Spadorcia, vice-president of communications and partnerships at CAMH
  • Luke Vigeant, co-founder and CEO of Inkblot Therapy
  • Alisa Simon, senior vice-president of innovation at Kids Help Phone

The national conversation on mental health has evolved and it’s being taken a lot more seriously across the country. These were the key factors that, according to our expert guests, have contributed most to this shift in tone and perspective. 

1. We’ve seen a major increase in awareness, education and training. 

Large-scale, ongoing campaigns like Bell’s Let’s Talk have certainly contributed to building awareness and breaking down the stigma of mental health. But other important changes are also happening within the walls of some of the country’s largest corporations.

At KPMG in Canada, the company understands the value of mental health training and education – whether it’s taking a first aid course or certification – and has even created a ‘chief mental health officer’ role as part of its diversity and inclusion team. 

2. The landscape is literally changing.

CAMH, the largest academic mental health science centre in the country, is built on the site of what used to be a lunatic asylum, says Ms. Spadorcia. But over the past decade, the West Queen West neighbourhood has transformed into one of the hottest spots in Toronto – and CAMH is located right in the middle. In much the same way, mental health is no longer something that should be hidden, or confined to the edges of the city.  

3. We’re more comfortable telling our stories now.

When Ms. Spadorcia joined CAMH 12 years ago, the conversation was quite different. “We didn’t have the words then. People with lived experiences [now] feel it’s safer to tell their stories.” She also points to the fact that the mental health hospital is now able to do what libraries and other institutions have been able to do for years – put names of generous donors on buildings and wings. This is a big step in the right direction, Ms. Spadorcia says, as people are now comfortable enough to give money and acknowledge that “[mental health care] is important.”

4. A mental health strategy is good for the bottom line. 

Many of the current mental health programs offered through EAPs are inadequate and insufficient,  leaving employees in a tough position. Mr. Vigeant of Inkblot Therapy says 76 per cent of employees want their employers to step up with the benefits packages they currently offer. This is a smart move for employers, he argues, since mental health disability accounts for the largest source of churn in an organization. He adds that prioritizing employees’ mental health is in fact the fiscally responsible thing to do. “Even if you don’t have a conscience, you should still have a mental health strategy,” he says. 

5. We’re speaking the language of mental health.

Ms. Simon of Kids Help Phone says that younger people are now using more precise language when it comes to mental health – and that’s a positive sign. “They’re saying things like ‘I’m depressed. I’m stressed. I have insomnia.’” It shows that this demographic is highly aware of mental health and that they’re comfortable using the language. The problem, she says, is that they’re diagnosing themselves when they may not in fact be suffering from a diagnosable condition. “What they really need is someone to talk to,” she says. That’s where Kids Help Phone comes into play. Ms. Simon describes the organization, which does not require parental permission or insurance, as a place that helps connect young people to other safe services based on their needs. “We’re a safe door that any young person can walk through. The complexity of their lives requires numerous conversations over time. It’s about helping them through those issues and if needed, how do we connect them to services in their community,” she says.

6. The system is improving, but it’s still difficult to navigate.

Ms. Simon admits that the mental health landscape is complex to navigate – which is where Kids Help Phone comes into play. It’s even more difficult for young people living in more remote, rural areas to make those connections and understand help is available. 

7. It’s still a challenge for immigrants who come from a place where the mental health stigma is alive and well. 

Ms. Remedies at KPMG says that the company has had an influx of highly skilled immigrants over the past year but they haven’t necessarily been successful. “We’re seeing a gap in terms of engagement at the firm,” she says. As a result of this divide between performance and engagement, she’s looked at how her team can support these new workers. “How are we supporting them coming into a new country and environment? It’s all intertwined.” 

Katherine Scarrow is the general manager of Globe Content Studio, the content-marketing division of The Globe and Mail, Canada’s national media organization.

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