Since 1951, the Canadian Mental Health Association has hosted Mental Health Week every year during the first full week of the month of May.
Now that the week of May 4–10, 2020, is in the rear-view mirror, I’d venture to say that this year’s edition of Mental Health Week took place under the most unusual of circumstances in the 69 years the tradition has been observed.
I can’t help but reflect and appreciate the timing of Mental Health Week 2020—the coincidence that the first week of May this year happened to land on the seventh week of self-isolation for many Canadians due to COVID-19.
Seven weeks: Just long enough to allow folks to acclimate to the fear and shock of the pandemic, and for the need for a focus on Canadians’ mental health writ large to take place.
I‘m encouraged by the overwhelming response to Mental Health Week on social media, and the use of this year’s hashtags #GetReal and #TogetherApart over the past week. The efforts of our colleagues at the National and Ontario divisions of the CMHA for Mental Health Week 2020 did not disappoint.
It was inspiring to hear both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford rise to the occasion and shine a light upon the need for mental health supports in the name of Mental Health Week 2020—and to see both of these levels of government deliver such supports with Wellness Together Canada at the federal level, and expanded services at the provincial level—including CMHA Ontario’s own BounceBack program. As always, our partners at Ottawa Public Health continue to do their part as well.
At branches of the Canadian Mental Health Association across the country—and among our tireless partners and friends in mental health and addictions and social services nationwide—we’re sorely aware of the effects of loneliness and social isolation on a person’s mental health; we know that loneliness and social isolation were already of major concern in our society before coronavirus.
The pandemic has served only to amplify these concerns for many Canadians, and to deeper embed them for people experiencing severe and persistent mental illness and/or a substance use disorder, especially those experiencing chronic homelessness and living along the margins.
The theme of Mental Health Week this year is social connection. One concrete example of inequity highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic is the need for technology in order to achieve social connection.
Early in the pandemic, we at CMHA Ottawa made the decision to acquire smartphones for our most marginalized of clients. To date, we have distributed more than 150 phones, five laptops, five TVs and some portable radios to our clients, and we will continue to work toward technological parity well after self-isolation and physical-distancing orders have been lifted.
You can read one of these stories here: A home and a smartphone.
Mental Health Week 2020 also provided a platform for people with lived experience. We teamed up with our peer Kurtis, who shared some insight and advice on how to get through self-isolation if you’re experiencing chronic depression or a mental health challenge. Read that story here: Finding your purpose again.
Since the onset of COVID-19 pandemic, CMHA Ottawa has been delivering services remotely to our clients while strictly observing physical distancing measures without sacrificing our very high standards. I’d like to take this opportunity to tip my hat to the tremendous people I work with, and to recognize the ingenuity and resilience you all (safely) exemplify every day. We have continued to onboard new clients, and have worked with our wonderful local mental health services partners in finding new ways to meet the needs in our community that will last well after the COVID-19 pandemic has ended, and our new reality has taken shape.
We would also like to applaud our clients for their resilience and strength during this challenging time.
Thank you for a meaningful Mental Health Week unlike any that has passed. Take care of yourselves.
Tim Simboli, PhD