The Canadian Mental Health Association celebrated the centennial of its humble beginnings at a commemorative tea, honouring the organization’s inception.
“February 26th, 1918, Mrs. Dunlap who was a woman out in Ottawa invited a bunch of her friends to a tea party and they all donated money on that day and then two months later was the very first official meeting of CMHA, which was originally called the Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene,” said Christine Stewart, executive director of the Central Alberta Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) local office.
Stewart explained that up until veterans started coming home from the war with PTSD, people struggling with mental illness were probably self-medicating with alcohol or became outcasts in society.
She said a conversation with historian and City Councillor Michael Dawe helped her better understand some of the local history of mental health treatment.
The Central Alberta branch has been in operation for 55 years this spring.
As part of the preparation for the event Stewart went back through the CMHA collection of photos and articles which have been collected since the 1970s.
“Some of the articles I’ve seen from that time didn’t help – they were creating stigma really and trying to make sure there was ‘them-versus-us’, but we should still help them,” she said. “I don’t know when that shift started happening but we’re definitely still battling that.”
A part of the event was about advocacy to remind the community exactly what CMHA offers.
“We have so many good programs and people always think the programs aren’t for them,” Stewart said
Mental health is something everyone needs to take care of, while mental illness is something a minority of people need treatment for and the Association helps both.
“They are for everyone – we all need to learn how to be better at our wellness,” Stewart said.
Political leaders, stakeholders, members of the RCMP and the public attended the event this past week.