No Pill For This Ill: The Downtown Eastside community launches a report and vision for mental health

In mid-April 2018, the Downtown Eastside community in Vancouver, B.C. launched a report and vision for mental health authored by Carnegie Community Action Project. In the report, community members speak to the complex social determinants of mental health, including colonialism, capitalism, police violence, transphobia, sex work antagonism, discrimination against poor people, lacking humane and affordable housing, experiences of physical and sexual violence and abuse, apprehension, and intergenerational trauma, to name a few. The report reveals community members’ own perceptions of the causes of what the City of Vancouver has oppressively deemed a “mental health crisis” – causes that stem from social inequalities that are at the root of Canadian society. The following excerpt presents some of the perceptions and recommendations from community members who contributed to the report (read the full report here).

From the Preface: “In 2013 the City of Vancouver declared a mental health crisis and setup a task force on Mental Health and Addictions to come up with an action plan. The declaration was preceded by a record high number of apprehensions under Section 28 of the Mental Health Act. Yet of over sixty members, only three members of the task force were representatives of community groups. The rest were government officials, directors and professionals.

Soon after, we found out that West Coast Mental Health Network’s Peer Support Bridge Program, Gallery Gachet, Rainier Hotel, the Drug Users Resource Centre (DURC) and Action Research and Advocacy Association of Greater Vancouver (ARA) Mental Health, all beloved and busy community spaces, were going to lose their funding from Vancouver Coastal Health. These were all peer-led, social, alternative, advocacy and non-institutionalizing spaces. Many in the community certainly felt we were in a crisis, but not the kind the City imagined.

To this day, the government hasn’t asked the community what we need and want for our mental health. People with mental illness continue to be marginalized and excluded from political decisionmaking processes which impact their lives and their wellbeing. And the social determinants of mental health, the housing crisis and poverty, continue to worsen.

The purpose of this project is to build our own vision for mental health in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). A vision that centers and builds on the voices and experiences of community members and sees mental health as political, inseparable from the society we live in, not as an individual ‘disorder’ that can be cured with a pill.”

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