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Creating a better future for communities through research

Reflections of a CURA Demonstration Project

Jan 19, 2009

"Strengthening Mental Health in Cultural Linguistic Communities"


A Reality

Mental health services are struggling to respond to Ontario's growing cultural and racial diversity. Research has shown that members of many minority groups find it difficult to access mental health services, receive inadequate diagnosis and treatment, or experience services that are culturally inappropriate or demeaning. Clearly new innovative solutions are needed to ensure that publicly-funded mental health services are effective for today's multicultural society.

A Response

This challenge has been taken on over the past few years by a unique collaborative of 45 partners including leading academics, practitioners from various mental health and settlement organizations and cultural linguistic community members. After consulting with over 300 individuals in Toronto and Waterloo Region, the partnership has produced an emerging framework to guide culturally responsive mental health policy and practice. The purpose of this Community Research Alliance (CURA) project entitled "Taking Culture Seriously in Mental Health", is to explore, develop, pilot and evaluate how best to provide community-based mental health services that are effective for people from culturally diverse backgrounds.

Based on this CURA framework, the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre has taken on the demonstration project, "Strengthening Mental Health in Cultural Linguistic Communities", with funding from the Trillium Foundation, the Lyle S. Hallman Foundation, the Kitchener and Waterloo Community Foundation, and the Waterloo-Wellington Local Health Integration Network (WWLHIN). The essential elements of this project are the community driven focus, relationship building and sustainability, which will hopefully extend beyond the 2-year funded term both within and amongst cultural-linguistic minority communities in the Waterloo Region. As an innovative and diverse project it aims to demonstrate a higher level of reciprocal collaboration between cultural linguistic communities, practitioners and policy-makers. Involved in this project are seven different cultural-linguistic communities: Sikh-Punjabi, Polish, Afghani, Chinese Mandarin speaking, Somali, Sudanese and Latin American.

Real Reflections and Challenges

To date, this project has been both demanding and exciting; a great deal of research went into the initial stages of the project, and taking this research and putting it into practice in a meaningful and inclusive way while respecting the views, opinions and sentiments of all involved has been a big job. Many of the community members presently involved have waited a long time to see the fruition of the action portion of this project and they are excited to finally be working together towards common goals. The Project Coordinator has attained project milestones and goals through effective communication, collaboration and organization have greatly assisted.

In August of 2008, the Official Project launch was held at the Centre for Community Based Research. A wonderfully diverse group of people attended the event. Interested community members representing the various cultural-linguistic communities, settlement organizations, practitioners and policy makers shared their infectious enthusiasm with everyone present and made the most logical task of forming a Steering Committee easily achievable.

The first Steering Committee meeting was held in September where the "guts" of the project were discussed, a plan of action was outlined and commitments were made. Currently our board consists of seven representatives from each of the cultural linguistic communities in addition to representatives from: Catholic Family Counselling, Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre, KW Multicultural Centrel, CMHA Waterloo and KW Counselling Services.

Since then, we have continued to work closely with all seven representatives from each of the cultural linguistic communities and representatives from a broad range of agencies to ensure that all phases of the project come together. Continual engagement in meaningful and respectful ways with everyone involved in the project generates real enthusiasm and involvement at many different levels. The process of inviting individuals, (it was decided in that 28 people in total, 4 from each of the cultural linguistic communities) who would partake in the 30 hours of Volunteer Leadership Training was quite time consuming, and yet it was a very valuable and meaningful experience. It taught us that forming relationships with each and every one of these people on a one-on-one basis was a significant step in recognizing the importance of the reciprocal collaborative aspect goal of this project. Ensuring this continued communication requires dedication and the employment of numerous and creative correspondence strategies in addition to being sensitive to cultural needs and differences.

We have been invited to share our project in a variety of contexts and events. At these events people express their interest in the project and shed a different light on how important the work is that we are doing, not only for the communities involved but for the entire Waterloo Region. Hearing the public comments makes all the hard work worthwhile.

In many ways, we feel that we are mobilizing people to work together to make systemic change, we are inspiring a hope within these communities to challenge the system and work collaboratively in a meaningful way. In effect, we are making considerable changes in the lives of the individuals involved and touched by this project.

The most exciting event to date occurred shortly before Christmas 2008. Our vision was to hold a "Pre-Training Orientation" inviting all 28 individuals who will be participating in the Volunteer Leadership Training together in addition to members of the Steering Committee. We had an amazing turnout, and the room morphed into a multicultural explosion of colours, languages and much enthusiasm. We shared some wonderful dialogue about the project over a feast of Moroccan food, spoke about the training expectations, goals and benefits. The most amazing feat was that we were able to come together as a multicultural group and decide upon the training dates and times without any problems!

I believe that the future holds many exciting opportunities for this project. We will begin the Volunteer Leadership Training at the end of January 2009. I eagerly await these sessions, as do our volunteers and facilatators alike, where we hope to work together effectively across cultures to break down the barriers and stigma associated with Mental Health.  Stay tuned for more!