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Ten Years Together - Mental Health and Addictions

A Story of Mental Health and Addictions

Ten Years Together – Mental Health and Addiction

We have a mental health and addictions crisis in this city. It’s not unique to Calgary, but it is a problem that requires any and all allies to come together to solve. We know the stats; one-in-four of us are going to deal with mental illness in our own lives. That means that every family will have to deal with mental health concerns.

And this isn’t just about feeling a little blue. Our addictions crisis means we lost more people to overdose than we lost to traffic accidents and violent crime combined last year.

The only way out of this crisis is for us to join hands (figuratively; it’s still a pandemic!) and approach this problem together. 

I have chosen to make this the central issue of my third term as Mayor, and have launched the  Community Action on Mental Health and Addiction action plan. The City (capital C), and the city (all of us) draw our strength from each other. For decades, there have been agencies throughout Calgary fighting the good fight, providing care, building resilience, and really, truly helping those in need. 

But it’s time for more. It’s time for that conversation to become the mainstream. As Mayor, I’m given a special platform to get to raise awareness, but I’m no expert in this field. What I do know is that when the issue stays faceless, it’s really easy to paint with a broad brush.

So let’s put in some faces and some real stories.

Joy Bowen-Eyre, the CEO of The Alex Community Health Centre, says that progress on seeing the person behind the addiction issue has been such an enormous benefit to the way we talk about these issues. 

“Why are we as a community, when people are struggling with mental health and addictions, quite often, they’re experiencing poverty and homelessness, why is the first time we start to help them when they’ve accessed the justice system?” she asks. “We’ve got to do better, we’ve got to find a way. Why aren’t we addressing them from a health perspective?”

She credits The City’s work on bringing together the Stewardship Group for its strategy together as a turning point in the dialogue that we’re having about the cause. 

“It’s ok to experience mental health issues, it’s ok to experience addictions. Collectively, we can figure this out together.”

The CEO of Petronas, Mark Fitzgerald, says that over his professional career, things have moved slowly, but that momentum is starting to build. 

“I’m 30 years into my career, and it’s a conversation that’s never been safe to have in the workplace, it’s difficult to have in communities, it’s also difficult to have in many family environments, because the knowledge, and education, and awareness of mental health just hasn’t been there,” he says. “The expectation was to be successful, personal stuff stayed inside, business stuff stayed outside. 

“There’s always been a narrative around the importance of mental health,” he notes. “But that narrative has been carried through The City, for example, been carried by Alberta Health Services, been carried by fantastic organizations like the United Way or the Canadian Mental Health Association, or otherwise, but it’s never really entered the mainstream.”

“I think over the last 10 years there’s been a strong shift towards, it’s ok to have the conversations, it’s ok to recognize that as an employee or as a family member or member of the community, we’re not at our best, and that’s ok.”

Even as awareness grows and stigma reduces, Anila Lee Yuen, the CEO for the Centre for Newcomers, is very open about her own mental health challenges. She says that, for one reason or another, things right now are as difficult as they’ve ever been for people. 

“I don’t think we had the level of stressors 10 years ago that we do now,” she says. “But more leaders in various aspects of the community are wanting to come forward and normalize mental health and mental illnesses. So having a strategy at the city level is so important to me because everyone is impacted.”

Why does she think that this strategy can be effective here in Calgary?

“People ask that question for so many things, why Calgary, why now? My answer is always the same, regardless of what it is, because we have enough people that care.”

We still have so much work to do to make sure that every Calgarians has a chance at a decent life, a life of opportunity, a life of dignity, and to feel supported in their community. Creating the solution won’t be overnight, and it won’t be easy, but the fact that Calgary is moving forward, led by people from all throughout our community, it’s clear that  our city is on the right track. I think Mark Fitzgerald puts it best when he says this:

“I travel a great deal, globally. I believe the City of Calgary and the Province of Alberta are leaders in this space.”

We can do this, together.

 

 

Categories: Mental Health and Addictions


This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Mayor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.