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Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

Editor's Message

Sarah Hamid-Balma

Reprinted from the "System Navigation" issue of Visions Journal, 2014, 10 (1), p. 4

The working title for this issue of Visions was System Navigation, but ‘system’ really is a misnomer. There are multiple parallel systems (mental health, addiction, primary care, child welfare, housing, income, justice…) and the word system itself implies a degree of coordination that isn’t always there. In fact, then-senator Michael Kirby after his consultations on mental health reform in Canada called this problem “the complex labyrinth of existing services that comprise our current non-system.”1 In the coming pages, you’ll see how this non-system feels for people who have to navigate it.

For many reasons, I’m glad that the word ‘consumer’ for a person experiencing a mental illness is going out of fashion. But in one way, it’s apt: the journey to finding the right help at the right time when you’re ready for it is essentially a shopping experience. And consumers shop. If you’re anything like me, shopping can be fun when a few conditions are there: resources like time, energy and money; a plan on which malls or stores to focus my outing; maybe a friend to come with me; a goal that’s not so specific I’ll be quickly frustrated; and of course freedom to give up without a major impact on my life.

But imagine what it’s like when you’re unwell and you don’t have much time, energy or money; when you have no idea where to focus your search; when you have no one to help you or, alternatively, it’s falling heavily on a loved one to do the work; when you’re sometimes not entirely sure what your service goal is at all until you find it; and where giving up is at the high cost of your daily functioning, well-being and recovery.

The good news is that getting to the point of realizing you need help and asking for it is huge. And more good news is that two out of three Canadians aged 15+ who faced mental health or substance use concerns in the past year said their mental health care needs were met.2 But a full one in three did not. Our “non-system” needs to do far better for those one in three and their families.

About the author

Sarah is Visions Editor and Director of Mental Health Promotion at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division

  1. Kirby, M. (2005). Mental health reform for Canada in the 21st century: Getting there from here. Canadian Public Policy, 31(s1), 5-12. p.5.
  2. Statistics Canada. (2013, September 18). Canadian Community Health Survey: Mental health, 2012. The Daily.

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