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Mental Health Series Article 4 - Network Responds to Need

Dawn Betts and Joanne Books sit in front of the Canadian Mental Health Association
Network Responds to Need

Date: 2010-10-05

This is the fourth of four articles in a series about people living with mental health and/or addiction challenges in our community

The need for increased public awareness and education regarding mental health and mental illness has long been recognized by experts in the field, as well as by persons with lived experience - those who have been diagnosed with a mental illness. The Thunder Bay Mental Health Network was developed seven years ago as a response to that need.

The Network is a partnership of representatives from local agencies that focus on mental health/mental illness, the City of Thunder Bay and a volunteer with lived experience. Joanne Books, Manager of Education & Training for the Canadian Mental Health Association - Thunder Bay Branch, is the Chair of the Network and fully understands the important work that the Network does in our community.

Dawn Betts, a volunteer member of the Network, adds a valuable voice and perspective. "Being diagnosed with a mental illness is life-altering, not life-ending," she says. "It's hard to say this...but I owe what I am today to my illness. It has shaped me into what I have become."

Two annual national awareness events, Mental Health Awareness Week (1st week in May) and Mental Illness Awareness Week (1st week of October), allows the Network to coordinate the efforts of their agencies locally by planning activities that increase public awareness and knowledge about mental health and mental illness.

Mental Health Awareness Week is celebrated with a focus on mental and physical health promotion. Last May, thirty-five workshops were offered during the week, covering topics as diverse as Laughter Yoga, Spring Cleaning for the Soul, and a Parenting Seminar. All facilitators, including therapists, teachers and instructors, volunteered their time and expertise to make the workshops in this event-filled week available free of charge to people of all ages.

This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week across Canada and the Network will host a celebration of the creative energy and talents of a host of artists - musicians, storytellers, poets, visual artists and crafts persons - all with lived experience. Showcasing the strengths of people with mental illness, Poetic License Coffee House will be held on Thursday October 7th from 7:00p.m. until 9:00p.m. at the Prince Arthur Hotel (17 Cumberland St. N., Thunder Bay, Ontario, P7A 4K9). Everyone is welcome to attend this free event.

Dawn has been Master of Ceremonies of the Coffee House for three years, a fact that she still finds somewhat astonishing. "I used to be an introvert, but since I was diagnosed and got help, my life has gone in directions that are phenomenal!"

However, stigma and discrimination continue to plague the lives of those with mental illness. Once again, Dawn's perspective is helpful and illuminating. "It's important to get rid of discrimination from the outside, but you also have to do away with the discrimination from within. Until you do that, you're not going to make progress. Seeing smart, talented, brave people around me that have also been diagnosed with mental illness gave me the strength to ask for help."

The Mental Health Network plays a vital role in the fight to eliminate stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness.

For further details about the Poetic License Coffee House please call St. Joseph's Care Group: 807.346.5226.

By Jessica Cordes
Jessica Cordes is the Public Education Co-ordinator for St. Joseph's Care Group.

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