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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Strengthening Your Voice empowers lived experience speakers

TORONTO, November 17, 2016 - When it comes to addiction, there is still severe stigma. Stigma can negatively impact how individuals are perceived and treated by health care workers and members of the public. Lack of involvement of people with lived experience in decision-making or input to improve the system of care is also a concern. Hearing the stories and messages of people with lived experience is an important strategy to reduce negative attitudes and behaviours.

Next month, through the Evidence Exchange Network, CAMH’s Provincial System Support Program (PSSP) will help facilitate its seventh Strengthening Your Voice (SYV) training session with the local Community Health Centre in Kingston. The full-day training prepares people with lived and/or family experience who are dealing with problems with prescription opioid use to tell their stories publicly.

2016 Strengthening Your Voice Ottawa graduates
2016 Strengthening Your Voice Ottawa graduate

“It is critical to include lived experience in the evidence-base that will support decision-making in the province,” said Nandini Saxena, Manager of Knowledge Exchange, PSSP. “This workshop is one way to ensure those stories can be shared safely, and in a way that is meaningful and impactful.”

Faith Rockburne, a 2015 SYV graduate, notes how the workshop has helped her. “Before I took the workshop I was a fair speaker; well intentioned, yes, but with a blurry message. And I had doubts. Today, I am a better speaker with a distinct message. Today, I have no doubts,” she says.

The opioid addiction and overdose crisis in Canada has reached epidemic proportions. Last week, CAMH released a Prescription Opioid Policy Framework which summarizes the situation in Ontario, outlines the risks inherent to opioid policy and offers some high-level policy recommendations. This Friday, November 18, the federal government will open a two-day summit in Ottawa to address the issue.

"I started doing SYV speaking and training in conjunction with founding an advocacy group for drug consumers in 2010 (Drug Users Advocacy League) because of a lack of a voice in the community,” says trainer Sean LeBlanc. “In the six years I have been doing this, the thing that most impressed me is the resilience of people who use drugs; we've come quite a ways in a short time and it really makes me hopeful for the future, none more so than our amazing SYV graduates."

To date SYV has graduated 80 individuals. The graduates speak to a variety of audiences and so far have presented to high school, college and university students, at conferences like the Addictions & Mental Health Ontario Annual Conference, CMHA National Conference, and at training programs like CAMH’s Opioid Problems, Treatment Solutions course for service providers.

“The most frequent comment I get from college and university teachers is that I have brought to life for students what before lay flat and dull on the page. After one presentation to Social Work students I received over 30 emails,” says Rockburne.

With continued support from PSSP, graduates are actively working with system partners to identify new speaking opportunities. 

Click here to learn more about Strengthening Your Voice. If you are interested in connecting with a speaker, please contact Tamar Meyer.

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