CMHA Ontario Policy Director Uppala Chandrasekera credits her social work background as being a big part of her identity.
As part of Social Work Week (March 5-11), the Ontario Association for Social Workers (OASW) recognized Uppala this week as the recipient of their Inspirational Leader award, under the theme of “Social Workers on the Front Lines of Real Issues.” A passionate advocate for marginalized populations, a major focus of Uppala’s work has been the intersection of discrimination and racism on health, mental health and social well-being.
In reviewing her career trajectory, Uppala explains: “Mental health and addictions have been common threads throughout my career. I began my career as a correctional officer in a youth facility and as a security guard at the local RCMP detachment in Iqaluit. I saw first-hand the impact of addictions and mental health issues on both the individuals in custody and the officers. Without adequate supports from the health care system, the police officers became the default response to people in crisis.”
“Police officers are not health care professionals, their job is public safety. This is when I first realized that the justice system is the catch-all for everyone who falls through the gaps in the health care system. This valuable knowledge gained early on in my career informs the public policy work that I do now.”
In her current role as Director of Public Policy at CMHA Ontario, Uppala provides leadership for public policy work. She also provides strategic policy advice to the Provincial Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee and is the Co-Chair of Ontario’s Police-Hospital Transition Task Force.
Since 2012, Uppala has served on the Board of Directors of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, and was Vice Chair from 2013-2016. In 2017, she was appointed by the Ontario Cabinet to the Toronto Police Services Board, the first ever mental health expert to be appointed to this role. She also regularly contributes to Huffington Post, writing on a variety of mental health and addictions subjects.
For the full story, please visit OASW’s Inspirational Leaders Award page.