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Current Year Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Debating global health challenges

In a turbulent world with complex health and development challenges, what is the work of a publicly-funded teaching hospital? What is CAMH’s obligation to contribute to the search for solutions to global mental illness and addictions problems?

Five thought leaders and more than 100 experts, stakeholders and students tackled these questions with much enthusiasm, passion and insight at a special Catalytic Conversation on global mental health and addictions on February 9, 2012.

Dr. Peter Singer (r), CEO, Global Challenges Canada, highlighted the power of innovation in meeting global mental health challenges. (L-r) Dr. Clare Pain and Dr. Maria Elena Medina-Mora.

The panel-led discussion touched on a number of issues, from the role of a taxpayer-funded teaching hospital to revenue-generation, but speakers and audience made it clear that the primary issues are equity; reciprocity and cultural competence, rather than imposing a blueprint of our services abroad; and strengthening both global and local partnerships.

“We are returning with better clinical skills and more cultural sensitivity from our international projects,” said Akwatu Khenti, CAMH’s Director of the Office of International Health, as he emphasized two-way learning as vital to all international collaborations.

Both he and Moderator Dr. James Orbinski highlighted how we, being situated in one of the world’s most multicultural societies, can benefit as much as our partners when we engage in respectful and comprehensive collaborations.

There’s no question of a role in this area for CAMH as a “significant force” in mental illness and addictions, according to Dr. Orbinski, former president of Médecins Sans Frontières and Research Chair in Global Health at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, and Co-Director of the Global Health Diplomacy Program.

Dr. James Orbinski, former head of Médecins Sans Frontières, served as moderator and offered CAMH a wealth of perspective.

“The question for CAMH is how you take the understanding of the social determinants of health and the political nature of mental health to have very particular programs, relationships, services and processes to emerge that can sustain these complex discussions,”  

Dr. Clare Pain, Director of Mt. Sinai Hospital’s Psychological Trauma Program, highlighted the importance of building capacity in specialized psychiatric care in both existing services and medical education.

Dr. Maria Elena Medina-Mora, President of the National Institute of Psychiatry in Mexico, had two consistent messages throughout the night: 1) mental health is a global issue and so we must collaborate to determine a global solution, and 2) partnerships need to focus on process and sustainability. These words were echoed by Akwatu as he described the significance of a “comprehensive systems approach” when working to build capacity in global mental health and addictions.

Dr. Peter Singer, CEO of Grand Challenges Canada, spoke of the importance of innovation, be it  technological, social or in business, in helping effectively address global health challenges.  He also spoke of the power of “reverse innovation,” or reciprocal learning.

“The mark of a great institution is that it’s willing to tackle global challenges,” he said, adding later in the discussion that some of CAMH’s international work demonstrates how Canadians can make a difference.

(L-R) Dr. James Orbinski, moderator, Akwatu Khenti, Dr. Clare Pain, Dr. Maria Elena Medina-Mora, Dr. Peter Singer at CAMH’s Catalytic Conversation on global mental health and addictions work.

From the floor

Audience members were no less catalytic than the panel. Dr. John Trainor, Director of the Community Support and Research Unit at CAMH, was the first to shed light on the challenges of framing and the power dynamics that could be re-enforced. Dr. Michaela Beder, a resident of psychiatry at CAMH asked how we, in our work, take the political and historical nature of global mental health into account. Victoria Blackwell-Hardie, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, asked the hard question of whether or not we are inappropriately pathologizing all of the world’s illnesses, always presuming that the biomedical model is the best.

Issues of health equity and working with marginalized populations were elucidated by Dr. Kwame McKenzie, Senior Scientist of the Social Equity and Health Research Unit. Challenges to the lack of domestic funding in developing nations for global mental health were outlined by Dr. Louis Gliksman, former head of the WHO Collaborating Centre at CAMH. While Dr. Pamela Kaduri, a SAMI research fellow at CAMH, highlighted numerous issues including the scarcity of funding to global mental health, particularly in Africa where it is too often funneled through HIV/AIDS funding.


Catalytic Conversations

As part of CAMH’s strategic planning process, Catalytic Conversations are consultation and engagement events designed to shake up conventional wisdom, challenge our assumptions and surface new thinking on key issues.

Watch “GO AWAY EVIL Buyisa's Mental Health Story(from Grand Challenges Canada)​

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