Changing face and brand of mental health

TheStar.com – business/companies
Published On Fri May 13 2011.    Vanessa Lu, Business Reporter

When the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health announced a $10 million gift from Bell Canada last week, the largest corporate donation to mental health in Canada, Harry and Shirley Young were quietly pleased.

That’s because the Aurora couple has been a longtime donor to mental health causes, especially the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario, and they hope this move will spur other businesses to stand up and join the fight.

“It will carry a lot of weight,” said Harry Young, who has a family member who suffers from schizophrenia.

“Hopefully, it will get more people starting to think about it.”

Even though they have made donations to hospitals, food banks and the Scott Mission, when it came time to earmark $1 million to a cause, they decided a direct donation would be “a waste of money.”

“That’s because there is so much stigma attached to mental illness that people don’t want to support it,” he said.

The Youngs decided then the only way to fight the stigma is to get large corporations on board — tackling the issue head on in the workplace, as well as advertising nationally about mental illness.

And so their $1 million donation to CAMH in 2009 specifically called for helping companies develop workplace programs for employees suffering from mental health issues as well as encouraging advertising.

“It’s the only way we’re going to get the kind of money that’s needed in mental health issues,” said Young, 81, who ran the firm Tape Specialties, maker of the famous green masking tape, Painter’s Mate. “Large companies have a lot of respect. This will get people out on the street, thinking maybe there is something there (worth doing).”

Too often, people fear discussing mental illness, but in recent years prominent people have spoken up about how it has touched their lives, from former ambassador and finance minister Michael Wilson to media personality Valerie Pringle.

Olympian Clara Hughes has put her own face on giant ads.

Bell’s CEO George Cope has spoken eloquently about his mother’s depression.

Despite that, many people don’t realize the widespread impact.

Every day, 500,000 people will be absent from work because of a mental health issue, which Wilson likes to point out is the equivalent to the population of Hamilton.

Darrell Gregersen, president and CEO of the CAMH Foundation, attributes the lack of funding to the fact people might not realize specialty hospitals are needed, just like Princess Margaret and Sick Kids.

“Partly, it’s understanding that these are illnesses and you need a hospital. And partly, corporations have to think about their shareholders and what will their shareholders say,” she said.

“Are they ready to line up their brand with a mental health hospital?”

Gregersen describes meetings or cold calls with companies she has made and getting the response: “It’s not my thing.”

That comment, she said, “generally says to me, ‘I don’t want to talk about it. I’m afraid to talk about.’ Donors do choose. It’s up to us to help them to choose us.”

For Bell, its CAMH donation is part of an overall $50 million campaign over five years on mental health.

“It’s about breaking some taboos, maybe making other corporations think about considering this area,” said Mary Deacon, chair of the Bell Mental Health Initiative.

“I often say mental health now is where cancer was 50 years ago and AIDS was 30 years ago,” she said. “It’s at a point where a confluence of factors is all coming together. Its time has come.”

Deacon points to political leadership as well as critical brain research that proves people are suffering from real diseases as opposed to someone being weak or lazy.

“It’s a huge point of change. It’s a transformation,” she added. “But transformations take a lifetime.”

CAMH Foundation’s Gregersen hopes fundraising for mental health will eventually mirror efforts for cancer and AIDS.

“If we could do what cancer and AIDS have done that would be amazing,” Gregersen said.

“Harry and Shirley Young wanted to give us the means to reach out and encourage more corporate support.

“Their dream would certainly to be to see the mental health equivalent of the CIBC Run for the Cure.”

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