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Finally Working Together on Mental Health

02/18/2013 12:55 EST | Updated 04/20/2013 05:12 EDT

It is a lesson that we first learn in preschool; if we really want something then we must negotiate and work together. Working together and negotiating is something we continue to do for the rest of our lives. Negotiation is most visible when it comes to government. How do you think Obamacare was passed?

This post is not about the art of negotiation and how to do it properly, but why we must work together for the better of those with mental illness.

Last November I was appointed Co-Chairman of the Service User Expert Panel in the Provincial Services Support Program at the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health in Toronto. For the next 18 months to 2 years the panel will be focusing on the experience of children and youth in the mental health system, as well as the challenges they face when transitioning to the adult mental health system, which I blogged about in my post "When Is A Mentally Ill Child Ready for Adult Treatment?"

In my role as Co-Chairman I recently attended a conference as CAMH launched their "Systems Improvement through Service Collaboratives Program" as part of Ontario's "Open Minds Healthy Minds" mental health and addiction's strategy. After listening to keynote speeches and panels from international professionals and speakers, I walked away from the conference with a lot of information. So much that I needed to take a couple of days to absorb it all and really understand how I could use all of this knowledge to my advantage.

Something every single speaker stressed was that the government, caregivers, and patients must all work together. It sounds easy, but from the standpoint of a mental health consumer it really is easier said then done. I know because I've experienced the disconnect between all the parties first hand. The reason for the disconnect is complex but one thing was made clear at the conference: We must all look at the key areas, figure out why there is a disconnect, determine what can be done to fix it, and get down to work.

What must be remembered is that those with addictions and mental illness are the ultimate stakeholders here. Whatever decision the system makes, whether it comes from the front lines or the Premier's Office, will have an effect on the care patients receive. Lives are at stake.

For as long as I've been a consumer advocate for government and mental health and addictions agencies, I have always met with consumers talking about improvements that should be made to the system. But until recently I always got the vibe that these advisory panels were held to "save face" rather then because the decision makers were truly looking to make a difference. Don't get me wrong, I know my opinions and feedback have always been valued; but it has nonetheless been frustrating spending so much time advocating for improvements only to see so little done.

I had two opportunities to speak at this last conference and even more opportunity to mingle, but something I stressed is that we must stop spending so much time figuring out how to solve the problems of tomorrow. Instead we must begin to solve the problems of today. It's great to think we're looking so far ahead, but progress won't be made until we begin to peel the onion rather then going right to the core.

We will always have our differences, but for the first time in a long time I truly felt like those who have the ability to create change will do so. And now more then ever the powers that be will involve the true stakeholders: the consumer advocates. It won't be easy and there will be plenty of hiccups and disagreements along the way. But we've made a promise and we're going to keep it -- we are all going to work together.

The opinions and views expressed in this posting are strictly those of Arthur Gallant and may not reflect those of The Centre for Addiction & Mental Health.

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