One of the many things I enjoy about my job is hearing stories about individuals, groups and organizations who are doing their part to raise awareness of mental health and join the conversation about this important topic.
I am part of the Durham District School Board’s (DDSB) Mental Health Working Group. It is amazing to hear about all of the great initiatives they have underway to support the mental health needs of its staff and students.
While DDSB is doing a number of things to address the mental health needs of its students - the establishment of a Mental Health Lead, development of a Mental Health Strategy and offering Mental Health First Aid – it is great to be a part of a group who also want to enhance the mental health of its employees.
Shared Decision Making (SDM) is a practice which has great potentials to advance wellness and recovery among those experiencing mental health problems and their families. Enabling the client to be an indispensable partner in their care embraces the fundamental pillars of recovery and creates opportunity to advance its goals.
Traditional healthcare has historically practiced with an approach towards care which often oppressed clients, where the treatment choices and plan were often exclusively determined by the clinician and or the team providing the care. However, in more recent years, there has been strong evidence showing the benefits of SDM in the care being provided.
The Durham Talking About Mental Illness coalition (TAMI) continued to spread the message that it’s okay to talk about mental illness with their recent Stomping Out Stigma Summit on January 28, which was also Bell Let’s Talk Day.
TAMI coalition planners joined regional stakeholders, partners and schools to host the fourth annual Intermediate Stomping Out Stigma Summit by welcoming 250 Grade 7 and 8 students from 45 schools across Durham Region to the Ajax Convention Centre.
At this age, students can be very ostracizing to others who appear different. Differences aren’t understood nor respected and a cold shoulder followed by the sting of insults and stigmatizing comments can be very harsh and isolating to those struggling with mental health issues. The ability to bring change to these behaviours and have youth to see the world through the eyes of someone with mental illness is what TAMI does best.
TAMI is an education program with a mission to increase knowledge of mental illness and decrease the stigma associated with mental illness. Now in their 13th year, TAMI is proud to have initiated countless conversations about mental health while reaching over 25,000 students, teachers, parents and other professionals.
TAMI’s benefits have spread across the country and this recent summit hosted visitors from the Mental Health Commission of Canada in Alberta and The Schizophrenia Society of Canada in Manitoba.
“We have been evaluating different programs that have been in schools and reaching out to youth across Canada to reduce stigma,” said Romie Christie, of the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Opening Minds program. “One of the programs that stood out for us was the Durham TAMI program. It seems to be a model that has the potential to have great reach across Canada. You hear students speaking afterwards and you see the light going on in their minds to hear the stories and make changes in their own lives and in their schools.”
Chris Summerville, CEO Schizophrenia Society of Canada, agreed with Christie’s view on the impact the summit is having on young people.
“Approaching youth at an early age and helping them to understand what mental health is, and what mental illnesses are, and that there should be no stigma around having a mental illness is positive,” said Summerville. “The emphasis of stomping out mental illness is a good one.”
Carson, a student attending the event, was glad to have the opportunity to learn about mental illness.
“What I got from TAMI was that it’s okay to be different, everyone’s different and that’s what makes us human,” noted Carson. “When I get back to school, what I’m going to be telling my peers is that it’s okay if you have problems, it’s alright, you just need to go and talk to someone. Support is the best thing you can give to anyone that has a mental illness.”
Madison, a student from St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic School, shared Carson’s enthusiasm regarding the importance of TAMI.
“Today I learned that you are who you are and just because you have a mental illness doesn’t mean that you are different,” said Madison. “I’m going tell them that it’s not okay to call people names because you never know what really happens to them outside of school, you never know if they have a disability or stuff happens at home to them. You shouldn’t make fun of someone because you don’t know their whole story.”
Last year, the TAMI partnership was recognized as one of six programs in the country for its contributions to improving the lives of people living with a mental health issue or mental illness at the fifth anniversary of the National Mental Health Awards in Ottawa.