Closer partnership will lead to greater impact, vow mental health leaders

It’s been two decades since Dr. Pierre Beauséjour, then-president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association, presented his bold vision to unify a fragmented mental health community to 10 leaders from five national mental health organizations. His view at the time was that three primary realities were preventing mental health from getting the national attention and funding it deserved: stigma, dogma, and turf.

Attending that meeting that day — which would presage the formation of the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health — was Francine Knoops, the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s (MHCC’s) manager of policy and research.

Since that time, she explained, “I think we’ve made good progress on two of those realities, but turf has always been the most challenging. That’s why I was so delighted to see Louise [Bradley, MHCC president and CEO] acknowledge how we can better support one another collectively,” Knoops said, referring to Bradley’s opening remarks at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA’s) national Mental Health for All Conference, in Toronto, Sept. 23-25.

Addressing the more than 700 health-care providers, researchers, and people with lived experience at the CMHA gathering, Bradley said, “as a sector, we’ve been scrambling for the same meagre resources for too long, yet in our efforts to advance our distinct priorities we’ve lost sight of the shared ones.”

“We must not be blind to the duplication of effort, nor can we miss opportunities or squander resources building fiefdoms,” urged Bradley, who, together with CMHA’s interim national CEO Fardous Hosseiny, signed a memorandum of understandin (MOU) that set the groundwork to put words into action.

Taking a page from the Fit for Purpose pan-Canadian health organization review in 2018, which calls for increased partnerships and highlights the need for improved mental health networks across the country, the MHCC and CMHA are aiming for deeper collaboration between the two traditionally strong and independent organizations.

CMHA is a national organization with a large grassroots footprint that leads mental health advocacy at the community level, with some 5,000 staff members in more than 300 communities. To leverage those strengths, the MHCC, whose mandate is to drive mental health public policy and demonstrate effective mental health interventions in Canada, plans to pass the stewardship of certain programs and initiatives to CMHA to increase their uptake. One such MHCC program, the HEADSTRONG youth anti-stigma initiative, will transition to CMHA in 2020.

The MOU details specific steps the two organizations will take to foster a strengthened partnership. These include holding quarterly executive meetings, developing terms of reference, and transferring the stewardship of certain programs.

According to Bradley, “by modelling this kind of partner-leadership, we can signal to all entities in the sector that what we do together matters a whole lot more than who does it.”

“Together,” added Hosseiny, “with our strategic, big-picture view of Canadians’ mental health needs and an extensive grassroots presence, we can redouble our impact and bridge twice the number of gaps.”

As for Knoops, who has been tracking progress for the duration of her lengthy career, she is delighted to see two leading organizations embracing true collaboration.

“I had hoped it wouldn’t take twenty years,” she said. “But imagine how much more quickly we can accelerate change if we all row in the same direction.”