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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Catherine Zahn at the Economic Club of Canada: ’It’s time to Act’

January 28, 2016 - CAMH President and CEO Dr. Catherine Zahn kicked off Bell Let’s Talk Day a day early by inviting Canada’s business community to "join in on the conversations about the health, economic and social justice issues of our time -- mental illness."

Dr. Catherine Zahn speaks at the Economic Club of Canada
In her luncheon speech to a crowd of 175 highly engaged executives at the Economic Club of Canada January 26, Dr. Zahn applauded corporate Canada for helping reduce the fears and misperceptions surrounding the topic of mental illness and shedding light on the economic impact of mental illness in the workplace. "We know that safe workplaces are central to seeking care and experiencing recovery – and the evidence is clear – workplaces that are both safe and well – are good for the bottom line.”

However, she urged corporate leaders to “demand better”.

"I’m asking you to agree with me that the time for talking strategy is gone. It’s time to act.”

Closing the Gaps

Dr. Zahn outlined the obstacles that need to be overcome to transform the way we see, understand and respond to mental illness: gaps in science, justice and advocacy.

"We need a sustainable research plan for our country. Fundamental research is central to understanding the origins of the brain disorders that take such a toll today. Research, innovation and product development are not luxuries – they’re an investment in people, in populations and in the economy”.

Challenging the Justice Gap

”The mental health care sector has been marginalized -- held separate from the rest of the health care system,” Dr. Zahn said. ‘The impact of decades of neglect and avoidance has been stagnant investment, innovation and quality of care. We can do better but only if we attend to the Justice Gap.”

Dr. Zahn then challenged the audience to imagine what would happen if more people advocated for change.

“What if the 6.7 million Canadians with mental disorders were to rise up in protest about their year-long wait for a specialist appointment?  What if the 600,000 Ontarians with depression were to go to the press because an effective treatment isn’t covered by their healthcare system? What if the 10,000 people in Toronto who are on a waiting list for supportive housing were to descend on Nathan Phillips Square and stop traffic at Bay and Queen?” What if the moms and dads who’ve lost 1,000 Canadian children to suicide were to march on the Hill – their grief on display for us all to see?

"It’s up to all of us to help amplify the soft voices and carry the hope that’s emerging as we close the science gap, challenge the justice gap and bridge the advocacy gap.

“Use your political influence to motivate governments and industry to invest in the fundamental neuroscience research. Demand action in operationalizing provincial and federal mental health strategies, including a real wait times initiative. Commit to workplace standards for mental health that include education and exposure to real people who live with mental illness”.

"There are no degrees of separation between anyone in this room and someone with mental illness." 

The speech was followed by a number of questions from the audience about a wide- range of topics: police response to people in crisis, the recent suicide of a 10-year-old child, and inclusion of Aboriginal and marginalized communities in research initiatives.

To read Catherine’s speech in full, click here.

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