Humber River’s Chief of Psychiatry Leads Campaign to Remove Stigma from the Care of Mental Health and Addictions Patients Across Canada

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During the summer of 2007, while in Berlin as a member of the International Advisory Board for the German Centres of Excellence in Schizophrenia Research – an elite position granted by the Federal Government of Germany – Dr. George Awad, Humber River Regional Hospital’s (HRRH) Chief of Psychiatry, took on a role that is now helping to change the face of mental health and addictions programs across Canada.“My role was to develop and mount a campaign to address the negative impacts of stigma in the treatment of mental health and addictions patients. In doing so I liaised with many international colleagues to coordinate the research and educational components of this campaign,” said Awad, a ten year veteran of the International Advisory Board and a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. “I also spoke to many families and health professionals about how this stigma affected care delivery. It was during that summer that I realized we needed to launch the same type of anti-stigma campaign in Canada.”By the summer of 2009, Dr. Awad had implemented an energetic anti-stigma campaign at Humber River and had begun educating HRRH staff, physicians and volunteers about the stigma surrounding mental illness. It was this campaign that formed the basis for Humber River’s 2009 Mental Health Clinical Day – an annual academic and professional event – with its theme: “Stigma of Mental Illness – Combating the Enemy Among Us.” The event was a huge success and featured well-known speakers on anti-stigma from across Canada including Dr. Heather Stewart, an international expert on anti-stigma and a professor in the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology at Queen’s University.This summer, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) approached Awad to participate in a national film production on how stigma presents itself in society, in particular in the health care system. The film will be used as a component of an MHCC education program that targets health care professionals across the country.  “Under Dr. Awad’s vast expertise and strong leadership, Humber River was the first hospital in Canada to launch a campaign that increases awareness about stigma and aims to combat it through various education tools,” said Dr. Rueben Devlin, HRRH President & Chief Executive Officer. “We were thrilled that our launch was followed by the MHCC’s announcement about their commitment to a 10 year anti-stigma initiative. We look forward to working closely with the MHCC and continuing to create awareness about stigma throughout our hospital and community.”“We are proud to be a leader in this area and I am fortunate to be supported by such a wonderful team and senior management group who have all helped to make our Mental Health and Addictions Program the reputable, top-level program that it is,” said Awad. “We also appreciate the support of our Central Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) and the MHCC. My participation in this film reinforces Humber River’s dedication to educating our staff and community professionals about the stigma that surrounds mental illness.”But Humber River’s anti-stigma campaign is only one example of the hospital’s commitment to providing quality care and service to mental health and addictions patients and their families. “We have strong affiliations with the University of Toronto and York University and we are committed to training a variety of professionals,” noted Awad. “In our extensive Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Addictions Program we have a specific and highly specialized training program for University of Toronto child psychiatry residents. We also host senior psychiatry residents and fellows from many countries around the world.”The HRRH Mental Health and Addictions Department has also undergone tremendous expansion in the last four years by adding four new programs: Early Intervention in Psychosis; Psycho-Geriatric Outreach; Enhancement of Addiction Services and the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team. The Department has also grown to 27 psychiatrists, 90 per cent of whom are full-time and hospital-based. And that’s not all. Humber River is one of the first hospitals across the country to establish a model of care that meets the needs of psychiatric patients who also require care in several other departments throughout the hospital. “We have psychiatric clinics in our Dialysis and Bariatric Surgical Programs,” said Awad. “HRRH psychiatrists provide psychiatric assessments within these clinics so that the patients requiring this type of care don’t have to travel throughout our organization. We are proud to be part of these interdisciplinary teams that are providing a continuum of care and service to our patients.” “We are able to provide innovative care options to our patients because of the hard work of leaders like Awad,” added Devlin. “With several international affiliations and over four decades of experience, research and practice in psychiatry we know Dr. Awad will continue to help Humber River provide our mental health and addictions patients, their families and our community with the best in treatment options and educational programs, alongside quality and safe care.”“It brings me great pleasure to take the knowledge I’ve learned in the international arena and share it with everyone at Humber River,” admitted a humble and modest Awad. “I am so fortunate to work with a dedicated and committed team; all of whom have helped me to achieve success with our anti-stigma campaign so far, and who have helped Humber River’s Mental Health and Addictions Program to be a national leader.”