Together Against Stigma Conference ends with call to action: ‘All Canadians can play a role in reducing stigma faced by those with mental illness’

Ottawa, June 6, 2012 – The world’s largest international conference on mental health stigma concluded today in Ottawa with a call to action for all Canadians to play a role in eliminating the discrimination and stigma that often prevent people with mental illness from getting the support and care they need.

Nearly 600 of the world’s top researchers, mental health professionals, policy makers and people with lived experience gathered in Ottawa from June 4-6 for Together Against Stigma: Changing How We See Mental Illness — a three-day conference organized by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) and the World Psychiatric Association Scientific Section on Stigma and Mental Illness.”More than seven million Canadians will experience mental health problems this year, and the sad reality is that many of them will find the stigma they face is actually worse than the illness itself,” said Micheal Pietrus, Director of the MHCC’s anti-stigma initiative Opening Minds. “All of us can play a role in reducing stigma faced by those with mental illness. We desperately need to eradicate this problem so that we can improve our mental health system and provide people with a better quality of life.”

The 5th annual International Stigma Conference follows on the heels of the MHCC launching the country’s first national mental health strategy ( last month and the recent World Health Assembly proceedings in Geneva.

Over the course of three days of workshops, symposiums and panel discussions led by mental health experts from around the world, delegates examined numerous important topics including media depictions of mental illness, building better mental health practices for healthcare providers and youths, and human rights and stigma in the workplace.

Dr. Ian Arnold, chair of the MHCC’s Workforce Advisory Committee, told participants during a Day 3 plenary session on workplace wellness that employers, workers and society as a whole benefit when employers strive to reduce mental health stigma.

“There is a strong business case for improving workplace wellness,” said Arnold, who highlighted several ongoing MHCC initiatives aimed at reducing mental health stigma in workplaces. “Not only is it the right thing to do to ensure employees aren’t discriminated against, but also it pays off with higher employment, higher productivity and reduced costs to individual businesses, which improves our overall economy.”

During a closing plenary session Wednesday hosted by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, panelists discussed ways that human rights legislation and policies can be utilized to try to eliminate stigma and discrimination against people living with mental illness.

“We continue to see complaints regarding mental health increasing. That shows to me that stigma and discrimination are all too prevalent,” said Acting Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission David Langtry, noting nearly one fifth of the commission’s complaints are based on mental health issues. “I do share the hope that there is a paradigm shift … and that people with mental illnesses are treated as rights holders.”

The event featured several high-profile speakers, including award-winning actress and mental health advocate Glenn Close, her sister Jessie Close and nephew Calen Pick, who were keynote speakers on the conference’s opening day. Together they founded an organization working to eradicate the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness after Jessie Close and Calen Pick faced life-and-death battles with mental illness.

More detailed information about the conference, presenters and academic research papers released during the conference can be found at Follow the event on Twitter at: #Stigma2012 and @MHCC_


A host of academic presentations were released throughout the conference. A number of presentation and discussion sessions were also be held, highlighting mental health programs from across the country. Among the presentations made today were:

• Current Practices in Reducing the Stigma of Mental Disorders in the Workplace.
• Novel Form of Police Training for Interactions with Mentally Ill Individuals.
• Myths and Realities about Forensic Mental Health Clients.
• Creative Minds: Raising Awareness and Reducing Stigma through the Arts.
• Opening Minds on the Front Lines.

About the Mental Health Commission of Canada

The Mental Health Commission of Canada is a catalyst for change. We are collaborating with hundreds of partners to change the attitudes of Canadians toward mental health problems and to improve services and support. Our goal is to help people who live with mental health problems and illnesses lead meaningful and productive lives. Together, we are sparking change. The Mental Health Commission of Canada is funded by Health Canada.

About Opening Minds

Opening Minds is the MHCC’s anti-stigma initiative designed to change the attitudes and behaviours of Canadians towards those living with a mental health problem or illness. The initiative is currently evaluating anti-stigma programs across Canada to identify which are successful at changing attitudes and behaviours related to mental illnesses. The successful programs are replicated elsewhere in the country. Opening Minds is also working with journalism schools and the media to identify myths and misconceptions associated with mental illness to create a network of change and decrease stigma.

The views represented herein solely represent the views of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.
Production of this document is made possible through a financial contribution from Health Canada.

For further information:
Jacqueline (Jacquie) LaRocque
[email protected] (email preferred)
(613) 614-6339

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