CMHA CEO Heartened By Progress, Says Stigma Must End

Camille Quenneville, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association of Ontario. (Photo by Ricardo Veneza)

The CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association is excited attitudes are changing towards mental health, but admits there’s a lot of work ahead before there’s real progress.

Camille Quenneville points to attitudes among the younger generation, who tend to view mental health in the same way they consider their physical health.

“I think social media has something to do with that,” she says. “I think the ability of people to connect anonymously has something to do with that.”

She believes attitudes are changing across generations, but it’s more noticeable among those who are in high school and university now.

“It’s really a social justice issue,” says Quenneville. “If they had cancer we wouldn’t think it’s acceptable that they wouldn’t be treated.”

As for what real progress will look like, Quenneville says it’s more than attitudes, it’s funding too. She says if the mental health system is to address the needs of so many Canadians, it needs more funding. In many cases, she says mental health and physical health are related.

“One of the biggest impediments [to getting mental health treatment] is people who have an ongoing physical health issue who also have a mental health issue that goes undiagnosed or untreated because the priority of their medical health team is physical health.”

Some statistics suggest one in five Canadians will deal with a mental health illness at some point in their lives. Quenneville says those with ongoing mental health challenges often live 20 years less than other Canadians.

She says we’ll know real progress has been made the day people can talk openly about mental illness and are not thought of differently for it.

Quenneville spoke at the CMHA Windsor-Essex branch’s annual general meeting in Windsor earlier this week. September is suicide prevention month.

– With files from Ricardo Veneza.