The Mental Health for All (MH4A) Conference plays a unique role in uniting the people and ideas that exemplify mental health in Canada. Now in its fourth year, the MH4A Conference is an important place of convergence, where service providers, front-line workers, researchers, funders, policy makers and people with lived experience of mental health problems and illnesses come together to set the agenda. The theme of this year’s conference is Connection Interrupted: Restoring Mental Health in a Fractured World. Together we connect, create and collaborate to demand and design the mentally healthy schools, campuses, workplaces and communities that our citizens deserve, and reimagine the healthcare system and supports required to serve their needs of the future. Let’s look back and think ahead. Let’s shore up everyone’s mental health for the world to come.
About the 2019 Theme
This year’s theme is Connection Interrupted: Restoring Mental Health in a Fractured World. In 2018, we posed the question: what does a mentally healthy society look like? We held up a public-health lens to the issue and asked, could mental illness prevention and mental health promotion be the vaccines of the next century? We predicted the shape of things to come and looked upstream. Thinking upstream means taking a longer-term view of the society we want, and creating the social, physical, spiritual, cultural, economic and psychological conditions for people to enjoy good health.
And yet, these are times of profound disconnection. In this increasingly technologically connected world, we are disconnected from the land, from family, from self, from community. Rather than reinventing our society, perhaps we need to reconnect with our roots and with each other.
We need to honour and reflect on Indigenous knowledge and on wisdom that has been lost or ignored. And we need to recognize that if we connect to each other, to the earth and to our communities, we will shore up our mental health, our sense of meaning, and of purpose, hope and belonging. This will make us more resilient and capable of responding to the disruptive social, environmental and geopolitical turmoil we face.
Human connection and community bonds build the strength that makes us resilient to turbulent times. Not just for the 1 in 5 of us who will experience a mental illness or mental health issue in any given year, but for the 5 in 5 of us who have mental health.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), by next year, depression will be the second leading cause of disease worldwide. At what point does a diagnosis become so common that it’s the new normal? At what point do we radically shift our thinking about mental illness and mental health to embrace the fact that everyone exists on a continuum, and that everyone deserves to live, work, play and learn in psychologically safe spaces that foster well-being?
The climactic and economic challenges we face today are likely to amplify in the future. Our best role is to deeply understand our fears and predict what the new version of flourishing can be in this as yet-unknown context. We can restore mental health in our increasingly fractured world by re-establishing meaningful connections. And not just by strengthening the individual threads, but by weaving a stronger societal fabric. What is required is a collective resilience that supports and improves the lives of many in broad service to all.
So, let’s connect, create and collaborate to demand and design the mentally healthy schools, campuses, workplaces and communities that our citizens deserve, and reimagine the healthcare system and supports required to serve their needs of the future. Let’s look back and think ahead. Let’s shore up everyone’s mental health for the world to come.
Humans are social creatures and need community to thrive. Taking a public-health approach to mental health means taking care of the community by investing, system wide, in the services that promote mental wellness throughout all the life stages, rather than taking a reactive approach that addresses mental illness only once it has become acute. It also means treating mental illness as seriously as physical illness.
Some examples of topics that could be addressed in this stream include creating healthy public policies, establishing supportive environments, parity for mental health, strengthening community action, reinforcing personal skills, reorienting health services, developing tools for participation and empowerment and strategies for intersectoral collaboration.
Lack of connection and understanding can lead to discrimination and inequalities based on race, income, gender, sexuality, disability and citizenship. This can impact one’s mental health and create barriers to accessing to mental health services.
This stream explores how the mental health sector can better address the needs and leverage the strengths and opportunities of diverse groups, including LGBTQ2S, children and youth, communities of colour, women, seniors, persons with disabilities and refugees and newcomers to ensure that our mental health services are inclusive, diverse, respectful, culturally sensitive and responsive to a range of needs.
Faced with a legacy of colonialism and systemic racism, many Indigenous peoples in Canada have experienced forced disconnection from their land and ancestry. This disconnection has produced significant health outcome disparities. While accessing mental health services is generally challenging, it is also particularly difficult for communities in more remote areas in the north and on reserve. This stream explores how the mental health sector can build respectful relationships based in reconciliation among Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians and support Indigenous-led practices and community services to improve the well-being and health outcomes of Indigenous peoples.
Some examples of topics that could be addressed include mental wellness/resilience practices and programs, barriers to accessing services, community engagement, pathways to reconciliation, trauma-informed practice, policy, partnerships and innovations in Indigenous mental health, suicide prevention and reforms in the justice system and housing policy.
Childhood and young adulthood are critical stages for fostering healthy emotional development and for establishing a firm foundation for mental health and resilience. Schools and post-secondary institutions are on the front lines in supporting young people as they navigate life transitions, and can help establish connections among parents, educators, health professionals, and community organizations to promote child and youth wellness.
Some example of topics that could be addressed in this stream include school-based programs and interventions, digital approaches to mental health services, early screening and intervention, strategies for working with marginalized youth, navigating the transition from high school to post-secondary education, suicide prevention, resiliency and peer mentoring.
From the moment we are born, our brains seek connection, with our family, with our peers, with our community—and with who we are and where we come from. Connection is core to healthy brain development.
Some examples of areas of scientific research that could be addressed include molecular science, neurobiological pathways and mental illness, genetics, novel therapies, early intervention in psychiatric disorders, the interrelation between social connection and brain functioning, the impact of psychoactive drugs on the developing brain and physical disease and mental health.
A lack of healthy and meaningful relationships in one’s life has been recognized as an important contributor to problematic substance use. For children, experiences of violence and neglect and exposure to adverse and traumatic events are associated with higher rates of substance use disorders in adulthood. However, substance use problems are far from individual experiences; they are also deeply embedded in larger social processes of violence and inequality, including colonialism and residential schooling, gender-based and racist violence and poverty and homelessness. While substance use problems are often linked to dissociation and disconnection, many people with substance use problems have found that connection is key to healing from substance use disorders and the traumas associated with them.
This stream explores how we can prevent and manage substance use disorders and support recovery by promoting mental wellness and human connection. Some examples of topics that could be addressed include community and multisectoral partnerships, parity for addictions treatment and mental health services, access to treatment services, trauma-informed care, trauma and its relationship to addiction, de-stigmatizing mental illness and substance use disorder, peer support services, harm reduction and addressing social inequalities linked to substance use.
Feeling connected to your work and your colleagues is key to building a healthy workplace as well as helping people achieve their potential and contribute to their community. Workplaces are sites that can actively support a healthy culture and mental wellness, but they can also be places that foster psychological distress or perpetuate the stigma of mental illness. This stream explores the need, opportunities and evidence for better pathways for promoting mental wellness in the workplace.
Some examples of topics that could be addressed include innovative approaches to supporting the mental health needs of employees, anti-stigma campaigns, mental health benefits and programs, partnerships with community mental health agencies, accommodating mental illness at work and the role of unions in fostering wellness.