This belief is what led to the formation of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Substance Use Information (known as the BC Partners). The BC Partners work together to activate knowledge for healthier individuals, families and communities.
Over the next few months, we will be profiling our BC Partners across our channels beginning with the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research (CISUR) and the work that they do in support of providing mental health and substance use information, services and resources to people when they need it, and in a way that is relevant and meaningful to them.
"In terms of our focus, we have tried to organize our many areas of engagement around helping communities, helping campuses, and helping schools."
Based out of Vancouver, the Knowledge Mobilization Team is a unit of the University of Victoria-based CISUR. The team is dedicated to ensuring that available knowledge is used in policy, in practice, and in public discourse related to substance use, health and well-being.
"In terms of our focus, we have tried to organize our many areas of engagement around helping communities, helping campuses, and helping schools," said Dan Reist, who leads the team. "Then we look at how to apply and mobilize knowledge in those settings."
Established in 2003 as the Centre for Addictions Research of BC, CISUR is a network of researchers, scientists and groups dedicated to the study of substance use and addiction in support of community-wide efforts to promote health and reduce harm. As part of the BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services-led and -funded coalition BC Partners, CISUR shares knowledge and receives help from six other B.C. non-profits working to disseminate knowledge around mental health.
Most of CISUR's collaborations have been with the B.C. division of the Canadian Mental Health Association. The two co-lead Healthy Minds | Healthy Campuses, a BC Partners initiative to reach out to post-secondary institutions. This initiative facilitates creative and collaborative learning opportunities to build capacity in campus mental wellness and healthier relationships with substances.
"One of the things that we've become aware of is that campuses are more appreciative of the need to engage in a health promotion approach," said Dr. Tim Dyck, research associate with CISUR. "They're not focused so much on prevention as they are with helping their campus members and the community as a whole develop healthier relationships with substances. For many campus members, this means they will not use, for others, they will use in ways that are less harmful to themselves and others."
Recently, CISUR collaborated with FamilySmart® (formerly Institute of Families) on a video about opioid use for the agency's monthly In the Know webinar series. The organization seeks to help parents and families understand mental health so they can support their children more effectively.
"We're very committed to the veracity of the information that we're putting out, in making sure that it's the latest evidence communicated in a simple way."
CISUR also supports foundational BC Partners components such as HeretoHelp, the flagship website for BC Partners, and Visions, a journal dedicated to stories and reports from people with lived experience as well as medical health professionals. Today, CISUR is the chief provider of content on substance use within BC Partners.
"We're very committed to the veracity of the information that we're putting out, in making sure that it's the latest evidence communicated in a simple way," said Dr. Trudy Norman, research associate with CISUR, "and giving really balanced views of the issues based on the evidence."
CISUR has been instrumental in changing the way mental health organizations view screening for alcohol and drug use.
"Often, screening was seen as an evaluation where you fill out a questionnaire, and if you score a certain level, you might be told that you should see your doctor and get a full assessment," Reist said. "We point out that screening can be used in a different way-simply as a gateway to conversation."
CISUR has also been a leader in the language used around substance use. For example, in symposia and conferences, CISUR has questioned the term "substance abuse".
"The term does not make sense, and is actually harmful," Reist said. He notes that "abuse" is more commonly used in contexts in which there is a victim and a perpetrator, such as "domestic abuse".
"That does not hold in cases of what people were calling 'substance abuse.' All of the emotional baggage of that 'abuse' word creates a negative reaction that ultimately leads to stigmatization and unhelpful ways of conceptualizing the issue. We recommend the removal of the expression from our language."
Growth in knowledge of substance use and its causes and understanding of how to interact with clients and patients has shifted in the last two decades.
"Twenty years ago, it was still not uncommon in treatment settings to have a very confrontational style in terms of using authority to push people to accept responsibility," Reist said.
"Now, there is much more emphasis on being collegial and hopeful and supportive. Nonetheless, we can challenge the person who uses substances to take responsibility but in a way that keeps their autonomy intact."
"When we want to help young people, we tend to emphasize the negative story, which has legitimacy, but is incomplete."
The focus in the substance use field is moving away from simply avoiding harm to nurturing resilience. "Recognizing the reasons people use substances involve perceived benefits, we need to help them learn to manage both the potential benefits and potential harms related to substance use," he said.
"When we want to help young people, we tend to emphasize the negative story, which has legitimacy, but is incomplete. We tend to try to use persuasion techniques to get them to buy our message instead of engaging in critical thinking to sort out what's going on in their lives and what role substances have. And we still have a lot of hypocrisy between adult behaviour and the message we give to young people. But we've moved the needle a little bit in all of these areas. And changing our language is at the heart of that."
This is part five in our series on the BC Partners. Learn more: