One Room, Many Voices, One Conversation

Communities support our growth, action and change, both personally and professionally. In the mental health system, communities of dedicated, passionate and motivated collaborators often act as catalysts for knowledge exchange and action.

The Community of Interest (COI) for Racialized Populations and Mental Health and Addictions is a forum for knowledge exchange and creation. Driven by a partnership of 11 organizations[1] and supported by seed funding from the Evidence Exchange Network, we began collaborating in 2012 to advance policy, planning and service delivery issues related to racialized communities as well as mental health and addictions.

Our community came together around a shared understanding that mental health experiences are informed by experiences of race and racism, and that mental health policy, planning and service delivery must consider the needs and realities of racialized groups.

An early goal was to engage people across and beyond the mental health system in a conversation about racialized communities. We found that while it was easy to attract people familiar with racialized communities, it was harder to engage key decision-makers at the policy, planning and service delivery levels.

Here is what we learned:

  • Start a conversation that matters to many – Instead of a conversation solely about racialization, we examined how and why racialized communities use hospital Emergency Departments (EDs) for mental health and addictions reasons. ED use is a priority issue for provincial government, Local Health Integration Networks, policing, service providers, and most importantly, individuals and families. We were blown away by the level of interest in our work.
  • Ensure lived experience is at the centre – Our COI values lived experience as highly as academic research. A turning point in our work was asking about people’s experiences in the ED—we also ensured that lived experience was at the project decision-making table.
  • Think at multiple levels – We considered policy, planning and service delivery dimensions of the issue simultaneously. This caught the attention of a diverse group of stakeholders.
  • Share innovative practices – Stakeholders were most interested in learning about promising practices currently underway. Two examples we shared were a hospital ED peer support initiative, and an ED diversion initiative that brings mental health services to a community health setting.

In my next blog, I will share what we learned when we successfully brought together people with lived experience, policy makers, planners, community mental health, hospitals, police and paramedics in one room to dialogue!

[1] COI partners are Across Boundaries: An Ethnoracial Mental Health Centre; Addictions and Mental Health Ontario; Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario; Canadian Mental Health Association, Toronto; the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH); Community Resource Connections of Toronto; Ontario Peer Development Initiative; Ryerson University; Wellesley Institute; Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre; Working for Change.


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