Editor’s note

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This issue of Network focuses on why and how gender matters in mental health in Canada—a high priority in our work at the Canadian Women’s Health Network and the Centres of Excellence for Women’s Health.

With the Mental Health Commission of Canada currently shining the spotlight on mental health issues across the country, we have the opportunity to further promote and advance sex- and gender-based analysis of mental health care in this country. In January 2009 the Commission released its first draft framework of a Canadian mental health strategy for public discussion: Toward Recovery and Well-Being: A Framework for a Mental Health Strategy in Canada. Unfortunately, the Commission’s newly released strategy does not yet include a sex- and gender-based analysis.

CWHN and the Centres of Excellence continue to work as part of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Women, Mental Health, Mental Illness and Addiction (established in 2006) to promote the need for a sex- and gender-based analysis, especially as the Commission begins to implement its recommendations. The Working Group’s background research report, Women, Mental Health and Mental Illness and Addictions in Canada: An Overview (updated in 2008) presents compelling evidence that gender and mental health are inseparable.

The articles in this issue of Network reiterate some of the key points of the Working Group’s report and demonstrate how important it is to include a sex- and gender-based analysis in mental health to create programs and develop models of care that effectively address the needs of all Canadians.  

Carolyn Shimmin, Information Centre Coordinator at CWHN, has worked closely with the Ad Hoc Working Group. Her article “Mind the (gender) gap” discusses the Commission’s new health strategy and why sex and gender must be considered. Another article by Shimmin addresses the topic of stigma associated with mental health and provides an analysis of anti-stigma campaigns—one of the priority areas of the Commission’s strategy.

The work of the Centres of Excellence for Women’s Health is profiled in an article on the complex links among violence, trauma and mental health, and in another article examining the mental health of health care workers. An excerpt from a new report, The Need for a Gender-Sensitive Approach to the Mental Health of Young Canadians, presents the work of the Girls Action Foundation. And the DisAbled Women’s Network Canada presents the results of a recent survey on accessibility at women’s shelters in Canada, poignantly illustrated by one woman’s story in Prince Edward Island that reveals a face behind the statistics.

One of the aims of this issue of the magazine is to profile existing and effective models of mental health care that incorporate gender-based analysis. This includes the work of the Brief Psychotherapy Centre for Women in Toronto, and the work on “trauma-informed” models of care by the British Columbia Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health, as well as a first person account of Vancouver’s Art Studios.

We also included several testimonials from women about their personal experiences related to mental health and healing through art, spirituality and by taking action for change. The article “Are there alternatives to drugs?” answers its own question with a resounding “yes” and presents an abbreviated step-by-step guide to good physical and mental health for all (good tips for all of you activists and researchers out there working on health but neglecting your own). Finally, the expanded resource review section provides information about a variety of websites and publications focused on women’s mental health for further research and information.

The theme of gender and mental health is obviously vast and, while this is by no means a comprehensive overview, we have tried to include a diversity of issues and voices. Thanks to Carolyn Shimmin for assisting with the coordination of this issue, as well as for her contribution of articles and reviews.

This is my final issue as Editor of Network magazine. In September I will be returning to university and someone new will take my place. It was wonderful to work with the women at the Canadian Women’s Health Network and the Centres of Excellence for Women’s Health over the past year and a half, and to have the opportunity to work on a variety of women’s health issues—topics that will remain central to my studies and work in the future. With a new Director of Communications coming on board, Network magazine will be changing its face and format in the fall. So stay tuned for the next installment of information and research on women’s health in Canada.

Peace and good health to you all.


Ellen Reynolds

Director of Communications