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Inspiring hope in an age of uncertainty: Top 10 moments of the 5th annual Mental Health for All Conference

Hope. It’s not blind optimism and it’s far from toxic positivity. It’s being able to imagine an alternative future and moving towards it. It’s the opposite of giving up.

This year has been full of challenges in our personal, social and professional lives. We’re facing uncertainty in our safety, our economy and our planet. But these challenges are not without opportunity. Despite these challenges, we have hope. And during our 5th annual Mental Health for All Conference (MH4A), hope is exactly what we found.

This year’s conference, themed Hope in an age of uncertainty, brought together over 825 people: service providers, front-line workers, researchers, funders, policy makers and people with lived experience of mental health problems and mental illnesses, all gathering fibre optically for an amazing virtual experiment.

We traded our typical event space for a virtual platform, and tuned in from kitchen tables, home offices and living room couches. And although we weren’t side by side, the sense of community was stronger than ever. Ideas were shared, best practices discussed, and together we pictured a brighter future. Hope filled every nook and cranny of our digital space.

In case you missed this year’s conference, we’ve captured the wisdom, knowledge and inspiration that sprouted. Here are our top 10 moments of our 5th annual Mental Health for All Conference, in no particular order.

  1. Pranayama with Ezhil Souparamnian

Yoga master and CMHA Toronto case manager, Ezhil Souparamnian, helped us start our day how we always should: with a big, deep breath. Souparamnian introduced the conference delegates to Pranayama, the practice of breath control in yoga. Participants started their day feeling grounded and filled with positive energy.

Pranayama

  1. A special message from our Minister of Health

Before diving into workshops and breakout sessions, we were presented with a video message from the Honourable Patty Hajdu. She took the time to speak on the uncertainty this year has brought, and the many crises we’ve endured. She nodded to the great work coming from Canada’s mental health sector and asked conference-goers to light the way for the Canadian government.

Patty Hajdu

  1. Redefining resilience with Rumeet Billan

With our first keynote speaker, Rumeet Billan, PhD, we redefined what it means to be resilient. We learned that it’s much more productive to take breaks, and to give ourselves a break. We can’t hold ourselves to pre-pandemic definitions of productivity and success. And although our coping strategies might not be perfect, we’re getting through this.

She left us with the wise words, “You’ve got this! And when you feel like you don’t… That’s okay, too.”

Rumeet Billan PhD

  1. Birds of a feather flock together

The best part of conferences? Gathering with colleagues, friends and mentors. This year, though, we weren’t confined by the spaces of the conference hall. We didn’t need to rush down hallways or search out quiet rooms for meetings. This year’s MH4A Conference brought us virtual networking rooms, where the conference community was able to gather based on common interests and specializations.


  1. A moment of movement and mindfulness

Evonne Sullivan is a familiar face for MH4A conference-goers of years past. As a yoga teacher and speaker specializing in mental health and addictions, Sullivan has taught yoga in person at previous conferences.

Evonne Sullivan

  1. Youth perspectives

Back by popular demand, the keynote panel on youth perspectives brought together three wonderful panelists to shine a light on the mental health struggles facing young people in Canada. Seren Friskie, Siciida Ibrahim, Ally Salama and moderator Elana Ludman spoke about cultural competency in services and supports, properly honouring the time of youth advisors and best practices when accessing the expertise of young people.


  1. A look at leadership

In times of uncertainty, we look to leaders in our workplaces and communities for guidance. So, we brought together four dynamic CEOs to discuss their approach in these uncertain times. Michel Rodrigue moderated this panel with Louise Bradley (MHCC), Margaret Eaton (CMHA), Rita Notarandrea (CCSA) and Ian Culbert (CPHA).

Rita Notarandrea

  1. Past, present and future with Dr. Kwame McKenzie

A renowned psychiatrist and long-time friend of CMHA, Dr. McKenzie brought forward an important piece of history.

When CMHA was founded in 1918, the world was experiencing stressors similar to today’s. The Spanish flu was raging, social gatherings were limited to 10 people or less, and our founder, Dr. Clarence Hincks saw the possibility of a brighter future. He had hope.

As we persevere through COVID-19 and the many crises that have come with it, we must remember that these difficult times can be a springboard to a better future, where we have better mental health.

Kwame McKenzie

  1. Final thoughts from Steve Lurie

With 45 years under his belt, Steve Lurie has spent more time with CMHA than its own founder, Dr. Clarence Hincks. Closing out the conference, Lurie reflected on his time with the organization. He shared his insights, his learnings and his hopes for the future.

Steve Lurie

  1. Our sponsors and exhibitors that made this day possible

As the day came to an end, we sat with our eyes a little brighter and our loads a little lighter. The leaders, thinkers and front-line workers all put forth their work, their best practices and their hopes for mental health in Canada. We saw the silver lining of this age of uncertainty. It’s a catalyst for change, and we’re all in it together.

Hope is a vehicle for change, and our sponsors and exhibitors allowed us to put our foot on the gas.

Sponsors

Thank you to our sponsors:

Mental Health Commission of Canada

The Co-operators

AbilitiCBT by Morneau Shepell

CHEO

Sick Kids Centre for Community Mental Health

Thank you to our exhibitors:

AbilitiCBT by Morneau Shepell

ACCESS Open Minds

Actall Canada Corporation

Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association

Cannabis KE Hub, Centre for addiction and Mental Health

CARF Canada

CATIE

Communities Services Benefits Trust (CSBT)
Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute (CTRI)

Dollar A Day Foundation

EMHware Software Inc

Evidence Exchange Network (EENet), Centre for addiction and Mental Health

Frayme

Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOP)

Jane App

Mental Health Commission of Canada

Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health

Physical and Health Education Canada (PHE Canada)

Togetherall

University of Toronto Arts & Science Co-op