Perspectives

Working together to take down barriers

By Laurence ChengLi and Ronald Boudreau
October 7, 2016

People dealing with a mental disorder or mental illness often face barriers in the form of stigmatization, discrimination, misunderstanding and fear. When someone finds the courage to break through such barriers and seek help, how do we ensure that they will not also have to deal with a language barrier? This is among the challenges the Société Santé en français (SSF) (in French only) seeks to address. At the Canadian Forum on Public Education organized by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF) in Montréal last July, the SSF’s director of programming, Caroline Vézina, shared some thoughts on the subject.

One person in five in Canada will experience a mental disorder or mental illness during their lifetime. This means that some 200,000 Francophones living in minority-language communities will face this challenge, and in many cases they will also be dealing with a language barrier.

“Language barriers have a negative impact on healthcare access and on patient satisfaction with their treatment experience. They also generate disparities between the care received by patients proficient in the dominant language (English), and the care received by those facing language barriers.”

– Caroline Vézina

In order to receive appropriate treatment, a sufferer must be understood and must be able to understand. Communication is thus the most important tool in such circumstances. “Language does play a key role in analyzing personal experiences and speeding recovery,” notes Ms. Vézina. “Language barriers have a negative impact on healthcare access and on patient satisfaction with their treatment experience. They also generate disparities between the care received by patients proficient in the dominant language (English), and the care received by those facing language barriers.”

In an effort to address the problems experienced by Francophone minorities across Canada, the SSF serves as a forum for healthcare practitioners promoting the development of an active offer of healthcare services in French: policy-makers, educational institutions, healthcare service managers, healthcare professionals and, of course, the communities themselves. The ultimate goal is to put together a mental health system that is responsive to the linguistic and cultural needs of Francophones across Canada.

The SSF and its membership emphasize four key orientations. The first is to raise awareness of mental health concepts and the associated issues within minority-language communities. The second is capacity-building that exploits existing skills within the communities in question. The third emphasizes the importance of language as the primary tool in the recovery process, and the need to recognize innovative practices that can better equip healthcare professionals and their partners to provide mental health services geared to Francophones’ needs. The fourth stresses research, and knowledge transfer and application.

Finally, we should also mention initiatives like Écoles en santé (healthy schools) that encourage students, school staff and the community to work together on mental health issues. This is an example of cooperation that is entirely consistent with the strategy followed by the SSF and its network.

Laurence ChengLi, a communications student, worked as a communications officer with CTF during the summer of 2016. Ronald Boudreau is the Director of Services to Francophones of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

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Perspectives web magazine is published by the Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF), a national alliance of provincial and territorial teacher organizations that represent over 238,000 elementary and secondary school teachers across Canada.

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