Canadian Mental Health Association Mental Health for All Conference

It Takes a Nation

Hillary Jones, Contributor


“It takes a nation” – this was the tag line of the recent mental health conference hosted by the Canadian Mental Health Association. Although it remains to be seen if any true social or policy changes will be made following the discussions that were had, the tone of the conference was one of perseverant hope.

Several keynote speakers emphasized top down changes that need to be addressed by political leaders, mostly acknowledging the lack of funding in Canadian healthcare systems that gets directed towards mental health services. Following with the ongoing glimmer of optimism, others referenced changes to government budgets promising that much needed additional resources will be directed towards mental health in the coming years.


The general consensus seemed to be that although we have strong frontline workers, we continue to struggle with a number of system issues. As anyone who has had contact with any part of the mental health system can likely attest to, these system issues create huge wait times. Different figures were mentioned by people working in various regions of the country, but it was not uncommon to hear of wait times of 6, 8 or even up to 12 months for accessing services. The audience and speakers alike clearly agreed that this was deplorable, with repeated statements of ‘we need to do better” and “we can do better.”

A unique feature of the CMHA conference however, was the diversity represented in the audience. Specifically, the conference was designed to facilitate conversations between everyone sitting at the mental health table: policy-makers, frontline workers, academic researchers, service users, and program managers were all invited to attend the same sessions and speak openly from their respective positions.

Unfortunately, the CMHA and mental health services in general still have a long way to go towards addressing other aspects of diversity. While sitting in a room largely filled with white people, and listening to keynote panellists, most of whom were white, one cannot help but notice that we must still be missing a lot of voices at the table. Steps are being taken towards addressing this issue, with certain workshops and sessions focusing on improving services for various minority groups, including queer, trans and non-binary individuals, Indigenous peoples, and immigrants. However, with a quick look around the audience, it is apparent that much of the work remains to be done.

So yes, improving mental health takes a nation. It takes a nation to force politicians to follow through on promises to provide additional funding. And it takes the willingness of each one of us to challenge the lingering stigma, to engage in the conversations, and to listen to the voices that are still so often not given a central seat at the discussion table. It takes a nation to commit to action rather than talking incessantly amongst ourselves.