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Editorial: Diversity and Health

Network, Summer/Fall 2004

People with mental illness often complain that, once diagnosed, they are labelled. By this they mean that their identity has been overtaken. They feel one-dimensional — a schizophrenic, a depressive, a bipolar — and are often referred to in these terms. But people with mental illness are also employers and employees, mothers and fathers, grandparents, sisters and brothers. They are old, and they are young. They are athletes, artists, musicians, gardeners and many, many other things. They are also Aboriginal, Deaf, living with HIV/AIDS, or from countries other than Canada.

This issue of Network looks at people who are, first and foremost, people but who have a multiplicity of identities, only one of which relates to their struggle with mental illness. The issue begins with an interview with the Honourable Dr. Marie Bountrogianni, the Minister of Children and Youth Services and the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. Dr. Bountrogianni not only has two ministries, she is, herself, a woman of many identities. Her experience as a child of immigrants and as a psychologist specializing in children’s issues informs her dual portfolios, but she also points out that she is both a politician and a parent.

First Nations people in Ontario are Miyew, Anishinaabe, Oji-Cree, Haudenosaunee, Métis and Inuit. But they are also people struggling to heal from the mental health problems caused by removal from their parents and communities to a life of abuse in residential schools.

McEwan House helps people with HIV/AIDS who also suffer from a mental illness. The staff treat residents as whole persons who have both physical and mental health problems that cannot be viewed (or treated) in isolation from one another. In the case of people living with HIV/AIDS, too often they are told that their depression is simply a natural outcome of their circumstances — when depression is a treatable illness. The Adding Life to Years program out of St. Michael’s Hospital encourages AIDS organizations to think about — and take steps to address — the mental health of their constituency.

This issue of Network also addresses the special mental health needs of the Deaf community, where communication, that most essential ingredient of mental health care, is a complicated matter. Therapists who sign are rare, and experiences of being ignored or treated badly by the hearing community have left many Deaf people with a deep mistrust of those who have not directly experienced their culture and reality.

And finally, we feature the Culturally Competent Mental Health Project which provides mental health counsellors to settlement agencies in Toronto. New immigrants to Canada, who have very little English, who bring their own traumas with them, and who have limited support in their new country are at high risk of developing mental health problems — yet, where do they go for help?

In today’s world, people have multiple identities that relate to race, ethnicity, culture, sexual orientation, language, talent, political affiliation, social cause, and spiritual beliefs. And even as I write, these categories are shifting. The idea of family is much broader than it once was and now includes almost unlimited variations of people living together, caring for one another and for children. Race and culture are no longer discreet categories of identity either. Most Canadians have rich family histories of multiple races and cultures. People change careers often in their lifetimes, and we are a mobile population that has called many communities home at one time or another.

Nonetheless, how we define ourselves, our individually created identity, matters to our mental and physical well-being and requires acknowledgement when others are helping us heal from life’s wounds.

— Dr. Barbara Everett, PhD
Chief Executive Officer

» Return to Network, Summer/Fall 2004 – Contents