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This flu season, UHN has teamed up with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Toronto Branch to support individuals with serious mental health issues by giving them tools to address their physical health concerns head-on.
The Primary Health Care and Chronic Disease Management Initiative, which was launched in 2010, exists to fill the gap between mental and physical healthcare.
"More clients were dying of chronic physical health issues as opposed to mental health issues – that's when we set out to offer programs that help manage and prevent physical health concerns," says Jennifer Pettigrew, agency lead for the Primary Health Care initiative at CMHA Toronto.
A survey of CMHA's clients found that more than 55 per cent had a known chronic condition, and 44 per cent had two or more.
According to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, adults who have experienced any mental health issue in the past year had increased rates of high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
Transforming lives through active care
Many clients with serious mental health issues cannot access primary care settings due to coverage issues, stigma, and the difficulties of fitting into the fast-paced model of primary care.
Vasanthy, a CMHA-Toronto client, recalls a time when her family members were afraid to visit her because of the severity of her mental health issues.
Since being diagnosed with depression 20 years ago, she often spent days alone in a dark room and survived numerous suicide attempts.
Adding a layer of complexity to Vasanthy's healthcare challenges is her diabetes. For years, she had difficulties finding and sticking to a healthy eating routine and maintaining a normal weight.
In came the help of the ACT Now Program, one of the programs offered within the Primary Health Care initiative, which provides healthy living and weight loss support for six months.
"It has completely changed my life around," Vasanthy says, noting how her confidence and mood has skyrocketed. She lost almost 60 pounds and as a result, her medications for her depression and diabetes have been reduced.
Now, two years since she joined the program, she takes pride in the Peer Leadership role she takes on during weekly group walks around the neighbourhood.
"I want to be an encouragement to others," Vasanthy says. "The group has been such a support and now I look forward to a long, healthy life that I
want to live."
She is one of more than 70 participants across Toronto. In recent months, Jennifer says there has been incredible interest and demand from individuals living with serious mental health issues to participate in the program – so much so that CMHA Toronto had to turn away dozens of interested individuals due to funding constraints.
UHN Partners with CMHA for Flu Season
This year, UHN will make a donation to CMHA Toronto's Primary Health Care and Chronic Disease Management Initiative for every flu shot received by a staff member, physician, volunteer, student and contract worker.
UHN's contribution will offer programs like ACT Now an opportunity to continue to welcome new participants like Vasanthy.
Flu shots will be available at all sites until Nov. 17.
Check out the initiative's highlights for more information.