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BC Partners promote understanding of mental health and substance use and reduce stigma

In 2015, the B.C. division of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA BC) and Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR) realized that some of their resources weren’t connecting with their intended audience of Canadian newcomers.
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Cultural differences and levels of literacy meant that their info sheets about mental health and substance use, even when translated into different languages, weren't connecting with immigrants—the concept of mental health didn't seem familiar to clients at all.

Fortunately, both organizations belong to a coalition called the BC Partners for Mental Health and Substance Use Information, also known as the BC Partners. In the spirit of the collaborative nature of the group, both organizations worked together to address this challenge. After consulting with another group that provides immigrant services, they came up with a better way to reach their audience: English-language classes, which most newcomers take. The organizations decided to invest in mental health and substance use-themed resources for English-language instructors.

"It's been rewarding to see this initiative continue, now four years and four lesson plans later," said Sarah Hamid-Balma, the director of mental health promotion for CMHA BC. "We've been struck by instructor feedback about how helpful they find this approach. I think we can really credit that to authentic consultation. This is one of several initiatives we work on with CISUR, and I don't think any of them would have happened without the foundation of the BC Partners."

Seven partners, common purposes

B.C.'s division of the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research are just two of the seven organizations that make up the BC Partners:

PHSA's BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services oversees the partnership, which is dedicated to the following:

  • Health literacy, or improving British Columbians' understanding of mental health and substance use issues
  • Increasing people's awareness of how to access services
  • Addressing the stigma that exists around mental health and substance use

The BC Partners recognize that both mental health and substance use operate on a continuum and occur (and co-occur) much more often than many think.

As a piece of the BC Partners' literature says, "Mental health and substance use are part of the human journey. Everyone experiences the complexities of mental health and substance use in various ways, through various forms, and at various stages of life. It is a natural and normal condition for people to attend to mental health and manage substance use."

"This is a unique and remarkable group," said Susan Good, the executive responsible for stewardship of the BC Partners on behalf of BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services. "It's been fascinating for me to watch the way that they have a respect and appreciation of each other while they are so different. I've never seen another collaborative group like this. Normally, collaborations happen with partners who are more equal or similar. These folks are quite different, but aligned around a common purpose."

Originally, the organizations worked individually on their health promotion, mental health and substance use literacy work. In 2002, the Ministry of Health brought them together as a partnership, provided funding, and tasked BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services with oversight.

"It was a conscious and strategic decision to bring this group of non-profits; all of which were doing some kind of high-quality health promotion and literacy work, to work together for greater provincial impact," said Deborah Ross, the director of strategic initiatives at BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services. She works with the BC Partners.

Key projects: Here to Help BC and Visions

One of the BC Partners' key collaborative initiatives is the Here to Help website, which contains mental health and substance use information, online support and resources. Another project is a quarterly journal, Visions: BC's Mental Health and Addictions Journal. It focuses on personal stories of people with lived experiences, including patients, family members and health care organizations. Each partner contributes at least two articles per issue, and partners are involved in setting priority themes.

The work with BC Partners is just one component of the work these busy organizations do.

"They have a lot going on, but they do find opportunities to partner on different mental health and substance use issues," Ross said. "As we move forward, our real focus is on ensuring an evidence-informed approach that is built on effective collaboration, so we can better serve British Columbians."

The partnership is also a kind of seal-of-approval that guarantees that only the latest evidence-based research and findings is made available to the public on

"If you Google 'depression,' imagine how many millions of results come up," Ross said. "You don't know which ones you can trust. HeretoHelp BC helps mitigate that."

The partners are required to consult at multiple sources in different areas of a particular topic, she continues. "If they do, say, an info sheet on borderline personality disorder, they have to consult with at least two or three people in different areas of work to ensure that the content makes sense, is up-to-date, is in plain language, and is based on the best evidence in terms of looking at academic literature."

Working together, whether in smaller groups or all together, there's no doubt that the partners can achieve more and better results in their efforts to provide resources, information and education to the people who need it most.

This is part two in our series on the BC Partners

BC Partners; Canadian Mental Health Association - BC Division
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