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Your input needed for national conversation on the term and definition of ‘Consumer’

Throughout the years, and within and outside of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), we have heard that the term ‘consumer’ and its definition are disliked, outdated and not broad or inclusive enough.

CMHA’s current definition of a ‘consumer’ is: “a person who has had significant experience with mental illness and has used the resources of the mental health system.” There are two problems with this definition: first, people who access tools, information and others supports not necessarily included in the traditional mental health system to maintain and improve their mental health are also users of mental health services; second, CMHA’s mission includes providing resources and supports for both mental health and mental illness, and the current definition focuses only on mental illness.

In the spring of 2011, CMHA launched a nation-wide strategic planning process that focused on defining its collective goals and strengthening the collective impact of the organization through enhanced collaboration among its community locations across the country. After 10 months of extensive consultation with hundreds of CMHA locations and with key mental health partners, CMHA released in May of last year, its 5-year strategic plan ‘Strengthening Our Collective Impact: A Strategic Plan for CMHA’. The plan will serve as an overarching framework for the organization and will be reflected in and supported by the plans of CMHA’s community locations. The first collective goal in the new strategic plan is to strengthen CMHA’s voice. The desired result from pursuing this goal is to have broadened contact with and impact on the lives of people in Canada.

The word ‘consumer’ has always been a controversial subject within the mental health sector. Other monikers have been used such as or ’survivor’ or ‘person with lived experience’. Whenever possible, CMHA and NCAC use ‘person-first’ language; however, when speaking collectively this is not always possible. With your input we hope to develop a term that is respectful and reflects the empowerment of citizens living with or affected by mental illness or mental health challenges. Having said this, we will always respect the choice of an individual to choose a term that reflects their personal experience.
CMHA’s National Consumer Advisory Council (NCAC) believes it is important to respond to the needs and desires of our members who are consumers and the population beyond.

To meet this need, the NCAC will be facilitating a national discussion to redefine the term ‘consumer’ by hosting the first of two Think Tank meetings involving consumers/survivors/peers and external mental health organizations. Some of those invited to participate in this Think Tank are people who have spoken to NCAC members about this issue at conferences and meetings over the years. Unfortunately, we cannot include everyone at this meeting but we are eager to hear all consumers’ ideas around this important topic. To facilitate this, a survey will be posted on the CMHA nation-wide website for those who would like to contribute their comments.

NCAC will also host a second Think Tank comprised of other mental health organization representatives, e.g. the National Network for Mental Health, Mood Disorders of Canada, Mental Health Commission of Canada, Schizophrenia Society of Canada, etc. A second survey will be posted online soliciting thoughts and comments from this group as well.

Please watch the website for the dates when the second survey will be posted. CMHA and NCAC need your feedback. As a national council comprised of consumers, we want to be as inclusive and collaborative as possible, and respectful of individuals’ opinions on this topic. NCAC is working hard to ensure that there is a forum for this conversation.

The National Consumer Advisory Council is a body of consumers of mental health services that has been instrumental in providing policy leadership regarding consumer participation within the Association for over twenty years. It has brought the consumer perspective to all of the issues and concerns on the CMHA’s agenda. See more about the NCAC at in the About Us section.