Anti-stigma projects are demonstrating promising practices that could be replicated in many communities across Canada, according to preliminary evaluation findings in a Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) interim report. The report outlines the Opening Minds initiative and activities and findings over the past four years. The focus has been on evaluating anti-stigma projects that have targeted workforces, health care workers and youth. Media has also been monitored to examine trends in coverage of mental health conditions and illnesses in Canada.
Stigma, and the fear of being labeled, is a strong barrier for many who would like to seek help for their mental health problem or illness. Contact-based education is emphasized in the report as an important means of reducing stereotypes. This is accomplished, for example, by engaging audiences with personal recovery stories from people with lived experience of mental health conditions or illness. Among the contact-based education programs highlighted in the MHCC interim report are adaptations of the “Talking About Mental Illness” program. Several CMHA branches such as CMHA Champlain East and CMHA Waterloo Wellington Dufferin are mentioned for their effective outreach to youth in schools and the integration of people with lived experience. Among the workforce programs, Mental Health Works, a national program based out of CMHA Ontario, is highlighted for its customized training for management and staff.
Future plans for the Opening Minds initiative include demonstrating and replicating best and promising practices more broadly across Canada to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. A few examples of the effective research-based anti-stigma programs that Opening Minds is working to roll out more broadly include:
- Bringing an Ontario-based anti-stigma program for healthcare providers into hospitals and clinics on Vancouver Island, after evidence-based research showed it was successful at reducing stigma.
- Modifying an anti-stigma program used by the Department of National Defence so it can be used in civilian workplaces.
- Creating a resource guide for working journalists and an online program for journalism students, after our research indicated an alarming degree of stigmatization among the media.
- A national anti-stigma event for high school students and teachers.
Opening Minds is also fostering networks of practice, so effective and established programs can develop a wider national reach, and program leaders can act as mentors to newly developing programs.
See “Opening Minds Interim Report” on the Mental Health Commission of Canada website.