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 (TAMI) 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.