Francophone Forum

It’s not uncommon for people to encounter challenges getting access to mental health and addiction services, but it is even more difficult for Francophones.

Phil Joachin and Annie Zawadi, a schizophrenic and a victim of domestic abuse, both Francophones, spoke at the second annual Francophone Forum on Access to Mental Health and Addiction Services. They told the audience of about 80 health and social service providers about the difficulties they encountered obtaining mental health services in French in the Toronto area.

Joachin, who is now bilingual, was diagnosed seven years ago when he was 15. He said that in family counselling, he had to translate for his mother, who doesn’t speak English. At times during the counselling, he left out details of his treatment when he translated the information to his mother. When the decision was made to admit him to a children’s hospital for treatment, he had to explain that to her.

Zawadi, an immigrant, was a victim of domestic abuse. She was afraid to seek treatment for depression due to a variety of reasons, and her presentation was a plea for greater understanding of the increasingly diverse nature of Toronto’s Francophone community.

“It is clear that Francophones have a greater degree of unmet needs for mental health services than their English counterparts,” says Anne-Marie Couffin of the Toronto District Health Council, one of the forum’s organizers. The problem is particularly acute for an estimated 300 Francophone children and adolescents in Toronto with serious mental health problems who can’t get services in French.

“One problem is that there are not enough French-speaking providers,” says Couffin, citing shortages of psychologists, nurses, social workers and case managers. “This is a significant challenge, given over-all shortages in many categories of health care professionals.” There are French-speaking primary care physicians and psychiatrists who can be found through the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, but many of the people who need access to their services are unfamiliar with the predominantly English-speaking system, she says.

The forum was designed to increase awareness existing services as well as identify gaps in services and develop better working relationships among health care providers.

Workshops focused on the specific needs of Francophone children, adolescents, adults, seniors and women, as well as the homeless. French-language addiction services were also identified as an important but neglected issue.

Held at North York General Hospital, the forum was co-sponsored by the hospital, the Toronto District Health Council (TDHC) and the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH), as well as five agencies (Passages, Oasis Centre des Femmes, Centre Médico-social Communitaire de Toronto, the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Community Mental Health Centre – North York).

A similar forum, focused on the needs of different ethno-racial groups of Francophones, was held at CAMH in 2001. Some services at North York General Hospital are available in French, and the hospital is committed to working towards providing a full continuum of services including mental health in both official languages.

The TDHC has been working for several years to ensure that mental health and addiction services for Francophones are available in Toronto. These services fall under the French Language Services Act, legislation that gives Francophones the right to services in French if they make up at least 10 per cent of the population or in urban areas where there are at least 5,000 Francophones.

Statistics Canada estimates that there are 80,000 Francophones in the Greater Toronto Area, and more than one in three were born outside of Canada. About two-thirds of those immigrants, mostly from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, live in Toronto.