By: Alana Trachenko (Winnipeg Free Press)
It may seem like mental health is in the spotlight now, but the Canadian Mental Health Association has spent the past 100 years in that line of work.
CMHA is celebrating a century as an organization this year. The national association has 330 locations across the country, including one in the West End of Winnipeg. Executive director for Manitoba and Winnipeg Marion Cooper says that these days, CMHA is focusing on mental health as a human right.
“So mental health needs to be promoted in terms of positive mental health and wellbeing, and it needs to be protected,” Cooper said. “When our mental health is threatened or we’re vulnerable to things that will impact our mental health, we need to be really protecting that.”
CMHA offers a variety of services. Many are geared towards recovery for people with mental illness and offer housing and employment support. Other programs include clinical intervention supports for people dealing with depression and anxiety and for transitioning out of the welfare system. CMHA also provides mental health education within the community and in workplace, and scholastic settings. It also helps people navigate the mental health system through its Service Navigation Hub, which helps connect people to the care they need within the mental health and addictions system.
Cooper stresses that the organization does a lot of work differentiating between mental illness and mental health.
“For a long time people used those words interchangeably,” she said. “Understanding mental illness as conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, that’s a big part of what CMHA is about, offering services for recovery.
“But also about promoting good mental health, and what are the practices that care of your mental health? So for us, it’s psychological, social, emotional and spiritual, and cultural well-being. We’re seeing people really engaged in that.”
She says that CMHA has been running a mental health week campaign for 66 years, and that as time goes on, people seem more willing to talk about and be open about mental health.
“Every year we’ve seen increased engagement amongst Canadians and Manitobans around their desire to talk about these issues and willingness, openness to talk, and generally speaking I think we’re starting to see less stigma associated with mental illness, and seeing people generally be more aware around mental illness and mental health.”
CMHA recently opened the CMHA Learning Centre, at 930 Portage Ave for education around mental health, thanks in part to a generous donation of $100,000 from Wawanesa Life Insurance. Looking ahead, CMHA is focusing on reconciliation and healing through the lens of mental health knowledge.
“We want to support reconciliation and creating equitable opportunities for all, and mental health for all, especially our First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities,” Cooper said.