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Talking About Mental Illness

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Stigma continues to be a huge problem for people living with mental illness. It undermines a person's sense of self, relationships, well-being and prospects for recovery. Communities are proving they can make a difference through education and awareness programs. The program described in Talking about mental illness helps to increase awareness about mental illness and the stigma that surrounds it. It is based on the experiences of three communities that participated in the program, and the steps they took to increase awareness and understanding of mental illness.

Background to the program

The community sites used Beyond the Cuckoo's Nest, an awareness program for youth age 15 or older, as their starting point. The program was originally developed in 1988 by nurse case managers at the former Clarke Institute of Psychiatry (one of the founding partners of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health). This program was developed in response to the community's expressed need for information on mental illness. It consists of a two-hour presentation designed to give secondary school students facts about mental illness and create opportunities for them to interact with people who have first-hand experience with mental illness.

People who have experienced mental illness, family members of people with mental illness, and health professionals deliver the program. The presenters who have lived with mental illness talk about their experiences -- what it was like when the symptoms of mental illness first developed, where they went for help and how they are currently managing. Students benefit from the unique learning experience the program offers, the opportunity to meet and talk to individuals who have been affected by mental illness. After attending the program, students often comment, "people with mental illness are just like everyone else."

The success of Beyond the Cuckoo's Nest and the desire to share the benefits of the program with people throughout Ontario led to the development of a second program in 1998. This program involved three partners: the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the Canadian Mental Health Association (Ontario Division) and the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario. Each partner shares the goals of increasing knowledge and understanding of mental illness, and eliminating stigma. Developing the partnership allowed the program to draw on the expertise and local networks of each organization.

The program goals were to develop and deliver awareness presentations in each of the three communities -- Hamilton, North Bay and Kingston -- and to document their experiences in order to develop resource materials to assist other communities across the province in delivering their own awareness programs. The learnings from the Beyond the Cuckoo's Nest program became the template to develop individualized community presentations.

Each community modified the program to reflect local realities and resources. This guide is the result of their experiences and their best advice on how to develop and carry out an awareness program for youth.

Talking about mental illness consists of two documents: the Community Guide and the Teacher's Resource.

Commmunity Guide

The Community Guide contains all of the information, support and tools that community members need to implement "Talking About Mental Illness" in their community -- an awareness program proven to be effective in bringing about positive change in young people's knowledge about mental illness, and in reducing stigma that surrounds mental illness.

The program brings together local community partners, including youth; people with mental illnesses and their family members; clinicians; teachers; and mental health and other agency representatives. Together, they develop and organize an educational awareness program hosted by local secondary schools.

The program provides secondary school students with the opportunity to hear the stories of community members who have experienced mental illness. The program also provides information about local mental health-related resources that provide support and help to youth coping with their own or a family member or friend's mental illness. More about the Community Guide...

Teacher's Resource

The Teacher's Resource Guide contains all of the information, support and tools teachers will need to implement "Talking about Mental Illness" in their classroom -- an awareness program that has been proven to bring about positive change in students' knowledge and attitudes about mental illness.

The program supports teachers in four essential ways:

  1. it outlines the links between the program and the new Ontario Secondary School Curriculum Guidelines;
  2. it provides teachers with practical, ready-to-use information on mental illness;
  3. it offers teachers and students an opportunity to meet and interact with people who have experienced mental illness first-hand; and
  4. it provides links to community resources and support for further information and professional help. More about the Teacher's resource...
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