Within CMHA, “consumers” have been defined as “people with direct experience of significant mental health problems who have used the resources available from the mental health system.” Many persons who volunteer or work in the CMHA or mental health system and the community have suffered from mental illness. However, for a variety of reasons, people may choose not to identify themselves as consumers; usually consumer participation means the inclusion of people who choose to identify themselves as consumer of mental health services. This self-identification is part of the empowerment of people who have often been left out of decision-making.
Some people have chosen to refer to themselves as “survivors”, which they feel recognizes their strength to cope with/despite both mental illness and the mental health system. Other terms such as ex-patients and psychiatrized are also used by people to describe their experience with the mental health system. Persons with a mental illness are full members of society, and have much to offer to the mental health system as well as the broader community. In the mental health area, they can work with other stakeholder groups including family members, professionals, and governments in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of policies and programs. In 1986, CMHA National established a consumer working group which evolved into the CMHA National Consumer Advisory Council and the independent consumer-controlled organization, the National Network For Mental Health and its affiliate provincial/territorial networks. Many Divisions and Branches of CMHA have included consumers on their Boards and Committees, and government and community bodies have begun to recruit consumers onto advisory committees. Because of their demonstrated expertise, consumers need to be even more widely recruited to decision making bodies such as community health boards and service evaluation teams. Affirmative action programs should be established to involve consumers in either volunteer or paid positions in planning, decision making, and service delivery within the Canadian Mental Health association and the mental health system. Programs must actively recruit and train consumers to be involved in other areas of community life, such as community planning, housing, social services and recreation. People who have experienced significant mental health problems/illness are as individual and diverse as any other group of the population, and are not adequately represented by one individual. Appointing more than one consumer to a committee or board takes the onerous burden off the shoulders of one person, ensures more adequate consumer representation, and widens the perspective.
1.That the Canadian Mental Health Association advocate, in full partnership with consumers, for consumers’ right to total participation in society. This includes advocating for provision of consumers’ basic needs, their special needs related to the disability, the recognition of their abilities, and their right to participate in decisions about their own lives. 2.Participating meaningfully includes taking an active role in the policy-making of the organization. Meaningful participation of consumers in the activities and leadership of the Association will be beneficial and must be supported by CMHA. Nominating committees shall seek consumers with expertise from their experiences inside and outside the mental health system. The Association shall ensure that opportunities for involvement, training and support are available to all consumer and non-consumer board members regarding issues of consumer participation. 3.That the Canadian Mental Health Association recognize the essential value of consumers’ life experience as a key qualification for employment at all levels of the Association. It is strongly recommended that consumers be proactively sought to compete for employment opportunities within the Association. 4.That the Canadian Mental Health Association encourage and support consumer groups and networks in ways that respect their autonomy. November 1995