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MIAW - Blog #9

Mental health matters, now more than ever

by Yona Lunsky

A screen capture of a virtual meeting with 6 people

CAMH and People First Canada meet to plan the Self Advocate Course earlier this month

Mental health is health, and it matters. It mattered before the COVID-19 pandemic, and it matters even more now. This year during Mental Illness Awareness Week and beyond, we want to bring awareness to mental health and developmental disabilities.

While many of us have access to a bounty of information at our fingertips, this is not always the case for everyone. One challenge is that people are not aware of the information that is already out there to help them. They may not know it exists, or perhaps they don’t know how to find it. A big part of what we do at H-CARDD and at the Azrieli Adult Neurodevelopmental Centre is knowledge exchange. Our research tells us that people need and want knowledge about how to prevent and treat mental illness experienced by those with developmental disabilities. This group has higher rates of mental illness, and standard interventions need to be adapted. Sometimes what is needed is quite complex but other times, it can be fairly straightforward.

This month, with funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, we are preparing to launch three courses across Canada to help people learn more about the importance of mental health for adults with developmental disabilities and their families during COVID-19: what we can do to promote it, how to recognize when there is a problem, and how to get help during the pandemic. Unfortunately, what we won’t be able to teach easily is where to find specialized mental health services because we have such shortages of mental health experts who are comfortable and willing to work with this group. Instead, we will teach self-advocates, family caregivers, health and social service providers how to navigate our siloed and inadequate system as best they can. Many of the resources we will be referring to and adapting to individual situations can be found on our H-CARDD COVID-19 website and videos of our teaching will be shared on our YouTube page. Thanks to social media and its ability to connect us to so many creative champions around the world, we will also be promoting materials and ideas that international colleagues have rapidly developed to be shared during the pandemic.

I like the word knowledge exchange as opposed to knowledge transfer, because it recognizes that there is back and forth between the scientists, course leaders and the audience. It reminds us that we are, both teachers and learners with different expertise. What is most exciting about launching these courses nationally is not just the potential reach of what we will be teaching to people across the country, but what we can learn from each other. By bringing people together, we can study how they learn best, what is working in different regions, and where the biggest gaps are. People will be able to educate and help each other, and there will also be questions posed that none of us can answer…yet. Learning and being together in this way will allow us to build community when we need it most, let others know about our shared concerns, and advocate for change to problems that demand a response.

For more information about these courses scheduled to begin this fall and again in the early winter, see contact information below. These courses will be a step toward improved mental illness awareness, and perhaps even going a step further in turning awareness into acceptance and action.

Contacts for more information on courses

Family Caregivers: Tiz Volpe

Service Providers: ECHO AIDD

Self Advocates: Irfan Jiwa