Yesterday I participated in a panel discussion at a one-day conference called "Conversations on Depression."
It was the first major initiative of a new Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care agency called Echo – Improving Women's Health in Ontario.
Echo was introduced in August 2007 – and is so new, it's website is still under construction, but when it's up, I'll let you know. You'll want to know.
Ultimately, Echo's mandate is to promote equity and improved health for women in Ontario, collaboratively. Women will be listened to and heard, at the grassroots levels of their communities and, in the health system, through research and policy changes.
In other words, Echo is giving women's health needs long overdue attention and when it comes to our needs, our emotional and/or mental health needs especially are desperate for help.
Echo's Mission and Values are "to improve the health and well-being of all Ontario women and to reduce health inequities – Equity, Diversity, Inclusiveness."
Echo is partnering with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research-Institute for Gender and Health and front-line workers from agencies, hospitals and community mental health centres across the province to gather information about women's mental health issues and in this case, depression.
Depression is singularly the most prevalent and pervasive emotional health problem women experience.
It is perceived as an "illness" with symptoms. But it can also be a soul-destroying symptom in itself of other very serious, complex, deep-seated personal and societal problems and challenges. It's tough to talk about depression. It's misunderstood. Often it doesn't look or sound or feel like what the word "depression" suggests.
It's frightening. Steeped in negative stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination.
By far, the biggest barrier to gaining help with our emotional and/or mental health needs, is that we, women, and men, find it so difficult to face our emotional pain and talk about it. Not only is it painful to process, it's complicated by deeply-rooted fears about how our words and our feelings and our problems will be received. The real repercussions – like being ostracized or isolated or abandoned or losing our jobs and our security. Our connections to the people we depend on and love.
About 40 community leaders attended this day of "Conversations" yesterday – a rich culturally, ethnically and racially diverse demographic cross-section of the population – rural and urban. Almost all women and a couple of men. Dozen of others watched and engaged in the discussion via an internet web-based interface.
I wish I could have stayed for the whole afternoon. What struck me most about this event was the focus on interactivity. This was a dialogue on many levels – personal and public. Every word spoken was heard, recorded and I sensed, taken seriously. How far it will go, remains to be seen.
At the heart of this event were the Questions and Answers from the audience and online participants. Then, more intimate "Conversations" at each table and an on-line survey everyone was asked to complete.
This was an information gathering event. I was asked to send in several questions based on my presentation. Where should research focus? I'm still thinking about that.