In 2016, London Community Foundation (LCF) released its Vital Signs report, which identified mental health as the single greatest issue facing the community.
Since that time, LCF president and CEO Martha Powell has seen a lot of meetings, but not a lot of action. That situation has left her feeling “frustrated,” but the success of a regional neighbour also has her excited for London’s future.
“The conversation needs to be continued; we need to take it beyond a conversation, it has to now become a call to action to change the system,” she said. “Since 2016 I’ve seen lots of tables, lots of conversation groups across the community meeting on different topics, but I haven’t seen a lot of action.”
Powell said she believes there is “lots of good intention, lots of great will,” in the Forest City around the issue of mental health, but there isn’t the necessary co-ordination.
Then she heard about Niagara Connects, an effort launched in that region in 2014 to create a Niagara-wide network for collaboration, planning and community action.
With that in mind, on March 28, LCF and London Health Sciences Centre brought together local mental health leaders and stakeholders to discuss how the community can tackle mental health systems change in a “collaborative and systematic way.”
Held at the Wolf Performance Hall in London’s Central Library, the third Vital Conversation offered more than 50 attendees the opportunity to learn, ask questions, and take a critical look at the current system to determine if a mental health charter could be the starting point to streamlining the delivery of care.
Mary Wiley from Niagara Connects was invited to speak about the creation of that region’s mental health charter.
Wiley explained how in 2014 her community launched the Niagara Mental Health and Addictions Charter, the collective expression of 65 organizations working across what she describes as “the mental wellness continuum.”
This connection included people working in mental wellness promotion, mental illness prevention and mental health services and care.
“When we started out there was a rough vision . . . it soon became a mental health and addictions charter. Right now, we are now at the stage where we are implementing it; that is a long-term goal,” Wiley said. “Now there are over 74 organizations that have been at the table in one shape or form. We are now morphing that working into a network format where we are actually sharing data and can measure our progress in implementing the charter.”
Wiley explained the idea of Niagara Connects was to get people looking together across a broad spectrum, but also realizing they’re all horizontal partners and that no matter their individual mandates they needed to come together “in a trusted social space” to do what was best for the Niagara area.
It also took, she explained, the understanding that meaningful change takes time.
“It’s not a five or 10-year plan, there’s an acknowledgement of it being at least a 50-year plan, if not more,” she said. “These things take time. Sometimes the steps forward may not look huge, but they are steps forward.”
At the end of the Vital Conversation, Powell said attendees were invited to sign up to answer five questions that commit individuals and organizations to taking action.
She was quick to add Londoners need to challenge themselves to think about how everyone can get the help that they deserve.
“I hope they take away a call to action,” Powell said. “We don’t want this to be another talk, we want people to say I’m going to commit my organization, or myself, to this change. Whatever it is.”