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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Making the Case for Diversity

Toronto, October 18, 2016 - As Canadians we recognize diversity as a key characteristic of our social fabric.  More than 20 per cent of people living in Canada were born outside of the country and our prosperity, growth and strength are tied to the success of newcomer populations.

But what are we doing to support the unique mental health needs of immigrant, refugee, ethno-cultural and racialized populations (IRER)? Not enough, according to a new report released this week by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) and researchers from CAMH and the Wellesley Institute. The Case for Diversity Report is the result of a multi-year research project lead by Dr. Kwame McKenzie, Director of Health Equity at CAMH and Dr. Branka Agic, Manager of Health Equity at CAMH. 

Dr. Kwame McKenzie and Dr. Branka Agic
Dr. Kwame McKenzie, Director of Health Equity at CAMH (second from left) and Dr. Branka Agic, Manager of Health Equity at CAMH (third from left), participate in panel during launch of The Case for Diversity Report.

The report highlights the urgent need to develop appropriate services for IRER populations and what can be done to improve existing services.  It provides policy makers and system planners with empirical evidence about current mental health disparities, and the cost savings associated with closing the gap.  In Ontario, for instance, we spend three times less on a person's mental health if they are born in a South Asian country than if they are born in Canada. People of South Asian origin are therefore at higher risk of being off sick or working ineffectively because of untreated mental health problems.

“To ensure fair access to mental health services for IRER populations, equity must become part of health system planning, including setting targets and identifying those responsible for leading change,” says Dr. McKenzie, co-principal investigator on the project who is also CEO of the Wellesley Institute. “As a country with a diverse population and an increasingly knowledge-based economy, the mental health of all of Canada’s residents is an important investment and we cannot afford to leave anyone behind.”

Tailored and culturally appropriate services are needed for the varied groups that make up IRER populations living in Canada.

“We are prepared to back this research with an investment of our own,” says Louise Bradley, MHCC President and CEO, who announced that the MHCC will also provide funding to CAMH’s Refugee Mental Health Project, an evidence-informed online course – available in English and French – to help settlement, social and health service providers build knowledge and skills around the needs of refugees.  The course is offered for free in Ontario; however, the MHCC’s commitment will see 300 service providers trained outside the province.

“This is a welcome investment and recognition of CAMH’s leadership in this field,” says Dr. Agic who helped lead the development of the course. “To date we have trained 3,500 service providers in Ontario and expanding the training will help bolster services for refugees in other provinces.”

The course is accredited by the Office of Continuing Professional Development, Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto.

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