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SSO brings together a Meeting of the Minds

On March 18, nearly 100 people from the Spanish-speaking community gathered together at the North York Civic Centre for Meeting of the Minds: The Impact of Mental Illness in Family Dynamics. Meeting of the Minds is a special educational event for the Spanish-speaking community that gives information and advice to families, who may have loved ones living with schizophrenia and psychosis. Meeting of the Minds was initiated by the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario (SSO) in partnership with the Hispanic Development Council and several other community organizations.

“Our work is informed by the desire to help others. We know better than ever how to treat and help those living with schizophrenia and psychosis, but we must look more closely at how it impacts families. SSO is proud that we can bring valuable insight and help to so many people gathered here today,” said Mary Alberti, CEO of SSO.

Meeting of the Minds is now entering its third year and has been credited with sparking new conversations about mental health both within and outside of Ontario’s Spanish-speaking community.

“We started this journey three years ago, and it’s been a great success. We are making progress fighting stigma, and ensuring people get help,” said Duberlis Ramos, Executive Director of the Hispanic Development Council.

To kick-off the event, a video was screened featuring SSO volunteer Ana Rios and her mother. Ana began experiencing symptoms of psychosis when she was 33. After she was hospitalized and diagnosed with schizophrenia, her family began looking for mental health services. One of the biggest barriers was that most services are offered in English and Ana’s parents only spoke Spanish. Luckily, they were referred to Strengthening Families Together, an SSO support program, which has sessions geared specifically towards the Spanish-speaking community.

“I began doing research. I began attending sessions organized by SSO with my family. And that’s how I started to manage my illness,” says Ana. "It helped me and my family find solutions, communicate better, and made us stronger." 

The keynote presenter was Dr. Sam Packer, Humber River Hospital’s lead psychiatrist in its early intervention program. The presentation focused on the burdens faced by families when they play a care-giving role for loved ones living with mental illness. Many of these burdens include stigma, the economic impacts of mental illness, issues with treatment, and inadequate access to services. Dr. Packer offered practical solutions for families facing these issues, including self-care tips for those supporting a family member, and how to develop a crisis plan in the event of a psychotic episode. At the end of his presentation, Dr. Packer answered questions from the audience. The entire session was conducted in both English and Spanish.

Meeting of the Minds began when Tatiana Wyse, SSO Family Support Worker brought together several community agencies after identifying a gap in mental health resources for the Spanish-speaking community. The initiative has grown over the past three years and is supported by the  SSO, Hispanic Development Council, CAMH, the Centre for Spanish Speaking People, Carranza, Family Service Toronto, Aliddesa Women’s Centre, Hispanic FutureCare, Humber River Hospital, Madurar Sin Abuso, and Parkdale Community Health Centre.