It’s often the case that when I come across a story about a large-scale effort to address the stigma of mental illness, it takes me a second before I realize that the effort is actually taking place in Canada. This time, Queen’s University (Kingston, Ontario) is working with telecommunications provider Bell Canada to establish a $1 million research initiative to further the cause.
As part of the new initiative, Queen’s University has named Heather Stuart, professor of community health and epidemiology, as the first Bell Mental Health Anti-Stigma Research Chair, tasked to advance anti-stigma research, scholarship and outreach programs.
In addition to continuing her work developing and disseminating best practices in stigma reduction, Stuart will work to expand applied research collaborations around the world and raise awareness about the significance of mental health and mental health research.
According to a story this week in The Globe and Mail, the funding is spread over five years, after which point it can be renewed. The objective is to help Stuart build a research team whose goal is to determine why so many people with mental illness still don’t seek help.
“I really want to be able to give people who have a mental illness a voice to target programs where they’re most needed, instead of where we think they should go,” Stuart told the newspaper.
In addition to the donation to Queen's University, Bell Canada has committed $50 million to Canadian mental health through its “Let’s Talk” initiative. The program provides funding for mental health hospitals and community organizations, drives workplace initiatives, and supports new research.
“By enabling Queen’s to expand its anti-stigma research, we are building on [our] commitment to fight stigma, support research and improve mental health care in communities across Canada,” added Mary Deacon, chair of the Bell Let‘s Talk mental health initiative.
The company also held its latest "Let's Talk Day" on Feb. 8. As part of a nationwide event to help end the stigma of mental illness, Bell donates five cents for every text, long-distance call or retweet that references mental health. With over 78 million transmissions this year, its contributions to Canadian mental health programs will reach nearly $4 million.
Of course, it’s natural to wonder why these efforts don’t seem to catch on quite as well in the United States. Is it due to the fundamental differences in our healthcare systems, or is the stigma still so prevalent throughout the population that it stops these efforts dead in their tracks?
Whatever the reason, stories like this do make it seem as though Canada might be slightly ahead of the curve on this one. But this is just one example, and there may be plenty that I’ve missed. Let me know what you think.