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Editorial: Bringing Our Voices to the Table

Judy Watson, BScN, MSA
President, CMHA Ontario
Network, Fall 2006

It is indeed a pleasure to be able to contribute to this exciting issue ofNetwork, in which we recognize the contribution of volunteer consumers and family members within the Canadian Mental Health Association and across the mental health system in Ontario.

I have been fortunate to serve as a volunteer board member with CMHA for about 11 years, initially at the local level, and now at the provincial and national levels. During this time, there has been an enormous change. Mental health is finally ‘on the agenda.’ It is being seen as an integral component of health for all Canadians, rather than being viewed as a separate issue for only the one in five directly affected by a mental illness.

In my life role as a family member and my CMHA role as a board member, I have had many opportunities to help get our message out, whether speaking from a personal perspective or meeting with funders and political leaders on behalf of CMHA. I feel that both roles have provided me with a chance to give back to my community, to learn, to form new friendships, and to become more appreciative of my fellow citizens.

People in Ontario and across Canada are speaking out about their personal experiences and helping communities and politicians understand the ‘good, the bad and the ugly’ of dealing with mental health challenges. The lobbying, education and programming done by CMHA has improved these experiences and increased public understanding.

I have noticed the great commitment of CMHA board members and staff during my association with CMHA, across all three levels of our organization. Board members are appreciated and often serve to help bring forth the consumer, family and citizen voice as we lobby to create a world where everyone’s mental health matters and all are treated with respect.

One of the key elements of pride for all of us ‘CMHA-ers’ is the value that we place on the inclusion of the consumer and family voice within our organization. Many other health care organizations aim for this, but have yet to incorporate this philosophy into their core values. We are known and recognized for our inclusive approach, and we must work to continue and even enhance this voice.

Consumers (who are not current clients) and family members are active on voluntary boards and branch advisory committees. CMHA Ontario has always had consumer and family membership on its board. Many, however, may decide not to disclose this personal information while at the board table.

CMHA Ontario is currently exploring means to enrich consumer and family input and to ensure that it is always provided at the highest level of board decision-making. One way could be through the formation of an advisory council, with a member of the council having representation at the board table. This is the model in place at our national CMHA level. The mechanics of how we will meet this CMHA Ontario objective will be defined within the upcoming year for consideration at next year’s June annual general meeting.

CMHA continues to lead the way in mental health, through its wealth of volunteers and staff, its education and services, and its commitment to having a strong consumer and family voice within the organization. All of us associated with CMHA can be proud of our people and of our accomplishments, as we work towards our willed future and vision: ‘A society which values human dignity and enhances mental and emotional well-being for all.’

Judy Watson is president of the CMHA Ontario board of directors and a member of the CMHA National board.

» Return to Network, Fall 2006 – Contents