Mental Wellness: Turning Talk Into Action

It may seem like politics is dominated by negativity, theatrics and highly partisan bickering, but that is not really the case. While there are certainly flashes of all these elements in modern political life, the reality is the public rarely gets to see much of the positive work done. The day-to-day legislative and case work done by politicians of all levels and stripes is generally the most important work we do. It is also the least understood. My team and I cherish the important local advocacy work we do and find it the most fulfilling. While it may not attract much media attention, we get to see the positive impact on families firsthand. To see the look of joy on the face of a family reunited after many years is enough to make up for the slings and arrows that can come with elected office. Too often we don’t talk about the positive impact that can come from politics, so this column is an attempt to do that on an important topic.

Last week, I held an event to launch the Durham Wellness Hub. The Durham Wellness Hub is a new online resource that helps connect people with programs, services and organizations related to mental health and wellness in the Durham Region. The Hub is the result of eight months of consultations by me and my team to identify the organizations that offer supports for people with mental wellness issues. Very quickly into the consultations we learned that there are more supports in our area than many would realize. The challenge can be to navigate the system, as many of these programs or groups are not well known. The complexity of the system is the result of the fact there are many great organizations trying to help. From hospitals and healthcare providers to service agencies, charities and advocacy groups, all are trying to have a positive impact on the lives of people in Durham. Early on we realized that our outreach effort to learn about the state of mental wellness supports in the Durham Region could become a guide that others could use. The Durham Wellness Hub is just that; a hub that connects the various mental wellness spokes that are all doing great things for people in Durham.

Over the course of consultations on mental health with groups and constituents themselves, many would ask why a federal MP was engaged in this exercise given that healthcare is an area of provincial jurisdiction. This was an understandable question, but the answer showed it as an area of passion for me. When I left the Canadian Armed Forces and became a lawyer, I began to get involved in veteran and military family issues as a way to give back to the military that had given me so much. Much of my volunteer work was dedicated to mental health issues facing military families. Soon after becoming an MP, I began to advocate in this area in Ottawa, including working with former Senator (and retired Lieutenant-General) Roméo Dallaire on an annual mental wellness event on Parliament Hill. Now entering its sixth year, the Sam Sharpe Veteran Wellness event brings together mental health professionals and advocates for an event that inspires hope and connects like-minded people. Events like ours, combined with excellent public education campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk, have contributed to the reduction of stigma associated with talking about mental health.

The Durham Wellness Hub and the mental health summit being held this May are intended to have a similar impact on mental health and wellness in the Durham region that I have seen take root in Ottawa on the Veteran and First Responder front over the last few years. Promoting public education and dialogue about mental wellness is central to the goal of the Durham Wellness Hub. The mental wellness summit will help us refine this online tool and will bring together individuals and groups that are focusing on mental health issues related to youth, so that we can explore ways to help address what appears to be an area of rising need.

The Durham Wellness Hub is in its beta version, so we would love your feedback as we work to include as many groups and topics as possible and ensure that the online tool is easy to use and expresses things in a way that promotes wellness and understanding. I am very proud of the work done by my team on this initiative and very thankful to the dozens of groups and people who have shared their thoughts and experience on mental wellness with me. Reducing stigma leads to positive talk and we hope that this initiative will help transform talk into education and positive action.

Visit the Durham Wellness Hub: