A letter from our CEO, Margaret Eaton

In honour of Mental Health Week, we’re all telling our stories. I want to tell one of mine.

It was 2020 and I was nine months into my new job as CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) National office, in the middle of the pandemic, and I was struck by severe lower back pain. I have chronic pain, but this sent me to the emergency department, an MRI, and a 2:00 am meeting with a neurologist who said I might be a candidate for back surgery. Meanwhile, he gave me opioids and sent me home to think about what I wanted to do.

I didn’t want surgery and instead I read a lot about the connection between mind and body and how stress can manifest itself in our bodies. I ended up joining a peer support group to look at new ways of thinking about pain. I didn’t know that my pain was my body’s way of telling me that I was overwhelmed and that I couldn’t go on thinking that it was a sprint when really, I was in a marathon. I had to look deeply at my perfectionism, my anxiety, my overworking and, especially, the small voice in my head that was so critical and judgmental.

That peer support group was life changing. I’m happy to report that I rarely feel back pain anymore. Even though I’m still working hard on my anxiety and perfectionism, and sometimes I hear that awful nagging voice, I’m much more aware of its destructive power and can usually nip it in the bud. It’s a journey. I thank my peer support group for their kindness and understanding that helped me heal—it made all the difference.

And I thank all of you who shared your stories with us and helped us celebrate the CMHA’s 72nd annual Mental Health Week. For more than seven decades, CMHA has used these seven days to shift beliefs and perceptions about mental health. This year, we channeled it through storytelling. By rallying together to share one key message: universal mental health care is important and needed now.

We’ve seen the research, heard your stories and shared new voices and perspectives. Canadians want, and need access to mental health services that are fully covered and free, that are easy-to-find and easy-to-access, and that are the same no matter where a person lives or who they are.

This Mental Health Week, through sharing stories, connecting with others, and pressing our governments, we’ve made strides in the mental health space. But there’s still more to be done.

We must continue to shine a spotlight on community mental health care. We must continue to elevate community stories year-round. In so doing, we show how valuable they are to us, our mental health, and our communities.

The energy I felt this week doesn’t stop here. We look forward to continuing to amplify the diverse and rich voices of mental health in Canada, to ensure that all people in Canada experience good mental health and well-being.

Together, we can harness the power of storytelling to help build connections and understanding between each other while strengthening our communities. Together, we can achieve a Canada where mental health is a universal human right.

Margaret Eaton,
National CEO
Canadian Mental Health Association