This blog is the first in a bi-weekly 7-part series about Mental Health in England and implications for Niagara.

For the past seven years I have been a member of the International Initiative on Mental Health Leadership and on three occasions have had the opportunity to participate in an exchange with other mental health leaders, once as a host and twice as guest. Exchange events are standardized to include two days of peer-to-peer exchange for all delegates, followed by a conference. There were 350 delegates at this year’s conference.

This year I participated in a Peer to Peer exchange visit with two agencies situated in the midlands of England: Derbyshire Healthcare Foundation Trust and Care UK in Hull. Peer to Peer Exchange visits are arranged thematically about 1 year in advance of the conference. The theme I chose this year, “Developing an Organizational Workforce in a Recovery Focused Service and Service Philosophy,” allowed me to observe in detail two agencies and their innovative practices in this area. The opportunity to observe and discuss the day to day reality with clients, staff, and management of the operations provided a wealth of insights.

The conference was held in Manchester for all delegates from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, US, UK and Sweden. All of the delegates had exchange experiences in the UK, Ireland and Sweden in their themes of interest.

The exchange component enabled us to identify shared problems in relation to services and their delivery. What was most valuable, however, was the opportunity to problem solve and together discuss solutions that we could transfer to our own country and community.

Implications for Niagara

For the past three years, Change the Game led by the Niagara Community Foundation has brought Executive Directors together for early morning meetings. The peer to peer meetings are informal, usually with a presentation, and always a lively discussion. Since 2008, Putting the Pieces Together sessions for community service workers have been hosted by United Ways around Niagara, and the Niagara Poverty Reduction Network is advancing its inter-agency collaboration priority through the Rowing the Boat Together initiative*. There are likely other informal networks across the region. In a small region, with limited resources, peer to peer networking should be our most common currency. It’s likely the only way we can ride the crest of transformation that is occurring in our various sectors. Just think about the potential if we were to systematically develop peer to peer initiatives across our Region!

Over the next few months I will be blogging about innovative strategies garnered during my UK visit. In particular I will comment on those strategies relevant to our Niagara experience and our Mental Health and Addictions Charter. I hope you find the blogs interesting and stimulating as we move forward to create a common agenda for mental health and addictions.

George Kurzawa
Executive Director
Canadian Mental Health Assocation, Niagara Branch

Other Blogs In This Series:

*The Rowing the Boat Together Project is now referred to as Niagara Poverty Reduction Network (NPRN) Inter-Agency Collaboration

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