mental health and addiction

Working to unmask mental illness

Fundraiser for CAMH’s urban redevelopment

Dana Lacey, Financial Post October 10, 2009

You won’t find a gift shop at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto. The 600-bed facility is Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, and is a huge presence in the trendy Queen West neighbourhood in Toronto. But CAMH patients don’t get many visitors, so a gift shop has never been built.

“There’s a stigma around diseases of the brain that isn’t the same for diseases of the body,” says Dean Hughes, vice-president of community development for CAMH Foundation. “If you’ve got a broken leg it’s easy to know you have something wrong with you, and it’s easy to go to the doctor and ask for help. But only one in three people who suffer from mental illness or addiction will ask for help.”

Music and entertainment retailer HMV is an important CAMH partner. A large portion of HMV’s 40 million Canadian customers are between the ages of 15 and 24 — one of the groups most affected by mental illness and addiction and the least likely to reach out for help. HMV has launched awareness campaigns both in-store and at http://www.hmv.ca,in partnership with CAMH, to raise awareness and help young people seek professional help. Next week is Queen Street Unmasked, CAMH’s third annual fundraiser. The community event also strives to raise awareness and strip mental illness and addiction of its bad rap. The evening starts with intimate dinner parties at several galleries and restaurants, featuring special menus by some of Toronto’s most celebrated chefs. The Afterparty Gala takes place at Maro, a nightclub in the newly hip Liberty Village neighbourhood. George Stroumboulopoulos of CBC’s The Hour, pictured, will emcee, Chantal Kreviazuk, Divine Brown and DJ Kardinal Offishall will perform and other celebrities of the entertainment and business world will come out to show their support. Tickets are still available for the Oct. 14 event ( http://www.camh.netfor information). Money raised will go toward the redevelopment of the 11-hectare CAMH site, a 10-year project that aims to blend the property into the surrounding community by adding roads, parks and public art.

The former provincial mental hospital at 999 Queen St. West is undergoing an image makeover. “The redevelopment is about taking down the walls,” Mr. Hughes says. “Not only is 999 Queen West a stigmatized address, but physically it can be daunting to go into the facility. We’re in a very hip, up-and-coming neighbourhood full of art galleries and interesting projects like the Gladstone and Drake hotels. As Queen Street reinvents itself, that’s what CAMH is doing as well. We want to completely reinvent the way people deal with and treat mental illness and addiction.

“The redesign is similar to Ryerson University — you don’t ever really know if you’re on campus or not. We want CAMH to be just another part of the community.”

One in five Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. The remaining four will have a friend, family member or colleague who will. It’s Canada’s second-leading cause of disability and premature death, and costs employers billions in health care and lost productivity. Mental illness and addiction account for 13% of death, disability and illness in Canada, yet only receive 5% of health-care funding.

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