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Published on September 20th, 2017 | from CAMH

Opening Doors for Meaningful Client Engagement in CAMH’s Future

By Stef Mendolia, Empowerment Council Peer Researcher, Safewards

“Welcome to the Future of Mental Health” reads the purple doorway on the vacant field at the southeast corner of Queen Street West & Ossington Ave. The door is there as a placeholder for the upcoming construction of Phase 1C of CAMH’s redevelopment, which will break ground in October 2017.

Doors symbolize transitions from one place to another, and their opening and closing can potentially signify transformation and change. Keys can symbolize power to create change, unlock hidden truths and uncover hidden potential.

Who holds the key to the future of mental health?

What is being prioritized in transforming the field?

CAMH, along with eight other forensic programs across Ontario, have been  piloting or implementing psychiatric nurse Len Bower’s ‘Safewards’ model  – an open-sourced, evidence-based model that focuses on building a more peaceful atmosphere in mental health units by educating staff on how to create a proactive culture of safety. The pilot started in July 2016, on Units 3-1, 3-3, and 3-5. The hope is for the Safewards pilot to be extended and/or implemented CAMH-wide,

At the onset of the project, the Empowerment Council (EC) advocated for the importance of including and resourcing opportunities for meaningful client engagement.  To this end, CAMH created a “Peer Facilitator” and a “Peer Research” role to serve as liaisons and increase engagement between CAMH and its clients.

I started my work as Peer Researcher with the Empowerment Council on January 2017. My work involved advocating for the ongoing inclusion of the client voice in the implementation of Safewards at CAMH as well as an ongoing engagement with service user literature, knowledge and theoretical frameworks. It was a positive experience to be involved in Safewards; a significant moment in improving mental health care by including a consumer/survivor analysis in a much-needed dialogue on the topic of safety and violence. As comprehensive as the model is in offering strategies to increase safety on an inpatient unit, we identified potential areas of growth, including more attention to Service-User Standpoint and Analysis and Human Rights-Based Advocacy for mental health and addiction clients in psychiatric facilities.

The EC’s involvement also brought attention back to The CAMH Bill of Client Rights. Our initiative “Safewards Supporting the CAMH Bill of Client Rights” was concerned with:  1.) Discussions about The Bill of Client Rights in meetings for staff and clients separately and, 2.) A focused group discussion for clients to give feedback on creating a safe environment at CAMH and what needed to change. Feedback from the focus group discussion will be included in the Final Report, and inform the work of The Empowerment Council.

We would like to continue to foster discussion with clients/consumers/survivors.

If you had the key to the future of mental health what would you do with it?

Let the Empowerment Council know. Email me at:

For more info on Safewards please visit

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