JUNE 9, 1989: First provincial gathering of consumer / survivors at Lake Livingston near Fundy National Park. Hosted by the Our Place Club of Moncton, Summit 89 saw people from across New Brunswick spend a weekend together, exchanging and sharing experiences. Author, Roger Melanson explains the reasons for this convocation:
Summit 89 will also demonstrate to our communities that people who have serious mental health problems are competent, capable of speaking for themselves, and able to make a valuable contribution to society… We, as consumers, are offered a product, which has a direct influence on our lives and future. If the product that we are receiving does not satisfy our needs, we must become part of a consumer lobby influencing government policy… We must now assert the rights of people recovering from mental illness…
(We) have the physical needs for decent food, clothing and shelter, the emotional need for a sense of belonging and the need to be employed within the community… Each one of us has a decision to make. Are we satisfied with the way, we are treated and with the services we are offered within the mental health system OR are we ready to take a stand, change public attitudes towards (us) and take an active part in changing the system and helping ourselves?
Hopefully, we can begin to create a provincial network of support groups where consumers can (live) without stigma, where they can speak openly about who they are, where they have been and where they are going… Conferences which bring consumers together can only make us stronger and more positive about ourselves and our ambitions.
JUNE 1990: Self-help leaders from across the province hold a meeting in Alma to discuss the creation of a provincial network.
AUGUST 1990: A second successful provincial summit with approximately 70 in attendance was held in Miramichi. Its theme was, “We Care, Do You?”
1990-91: Federal Secretary of State gives $6,000 to local leaders from Moncton to create a provincial network. Unfortunately, this attempt will not be successful.
1991-93: The New Brunswick Mental Health Commission begins its mandate to reallocate financial resources from the institutional setting into the community. Under the leadership of Eugene Niles, a substantial amount of funds is allocated to its consumer advisory body in the hopes that it would evolve into a provincial consumer network. Two people are hired along linguistic lines.
A French play titled, Bras durs et coeurs tendres (Brass Arms and Tender Hearts) authored by Claude Snow travels the province, and will be used as a tool to increase awareness of mental health and the psychiatric system’s pitfalls.
Although the Mental Health Commission was supportive of a provincial consumer network, it became weary of funding it through its provincial advisory body. Other provincial jurisdictions in Canada, where consumer/survivor run networks were being supported, had an arms-length relationship with a government agency. This was no longer the case here; thus, it was back to the drawing board on how to pursue the creation of an independent provincial consumer network.
Finally, a procedure was put into place; and here is how, then Vice-President, NicoleMalenfant, explains it:
The Commission asked people from different regions of the province to sit on an interim committee. The mandate of these people was to establish the network and to incorporate the work of the former networker… Preceding the creation of the interim committee, a grant from the Secretary of State had been received and a contract with a professional consulting firm had been signed. $13,000 was paid to these consultants in order for them to organize and make possible the creation of the network. These professionals guided and helped the interim committee in organizing the founding conference. An extra $12,000 served to defray the cost incurred for this weekend where about 60 consumers coming from all 7 regions of the province participated as well as a few professionals and special guests.
FEBRUARY 5-7, 1993: The founding conference of the New Brunswick Mental Health Consumer Network (NBMHCN) takes place at the Sheraton Hotel in Fredericton. Their provincial headquarters will be located in Edmundston. Its first annual operating budget was approximately $82,000 from various sources. The NBMHC’s birth did not come about without controversy and heated debate; as a result, two provincial associations in English and French were created and united under one federation.
Guest speakers at this founding conference were national networker, Susan Hardie. She spoke about the meaning of “networking” which was to “connect with” and that some principles of networking are that, “…everyone should find strength in his personal situation and that communication is critical to building bridges of understanding.”
Jim Roker, Co-Chair of the National Network for Mental Health at the time, spoke about the importance of not “struggling in solitude.” He cautioned, “…not to bite off more than (you) can chew and even if organizations offer money, not to necessarily buy into it, but to bite off small manageable chunks and turn success into a growing process… People cannot discover new oceans unless they lose sight of the shore,” he said to about 65 in attendance.
Ken Ross, who was then the appointed interim chairman and executive director of the Commission, mentioned that he, “…believed in empowerment, although it may cause strain on the formal system.” He explained that both, “… the informal and formal systems should attempt to establish equal and reciprocal relationships and not to alienate each other, otherwise,” he said, “the system will listen but will not hear you.”
FEBRUARY 8, 1993: L’Acadie Nouvelle reported on that day’s edition:
(The) New Brunswick Mental Health Consumer Network was the first organization under the enactment of Bill 88 in the Canadian Constitution to legally recognize the rights and privileges of both linguistic groups.
1995: The NBMHCN hires PGF Consulting from Shediac to undertake a comprehensive study that would portray New Brunswickers’ perceptions and attitudes towards those living with a mental illness. Recommendations were made on how to address the stigma and improve people’s inclusion in society.
The advice outlined in this report, on reducing stigma, was to work in conjunction with professional groups and associations representing the sectors of education such as the New Brunswick Teachers’ Federation, and other bodies in the field of employment, housing and mental health services. It was reasoned that by educating these sectors of society, that they in turn, would be able to have a greater empathetic understanding for those living with a mental illness. We have no evidence to show that these recommendations were ever implemented.
APRIL 1997: A turning point occurred when a French editorial in OUR VOICE / NOTRE VOIX titled, Un réseau pour demain (A Network for Tomorrow) was published. This editorial suggested that a portion of the funding allocated to the provincial network be decentralized and given to local consumer groups in the province in order to better meet the needs of their respective regions. This was accepted in principle and adopted at the Network’s next annual meeting.
NOVEMBER 14, 1997: The NBMHCN is legislated as a recognized provincial organization under the Mental Health Services Act.
APRIL 3, 1998: The NBMHCN decides to abandon its model of two associations under one federation and opts to simply have one, in which both linguistic groups would strive for harmony and respect with a sole board of directors. A factor leading to this decision was a 50% reduction in travel expenses for board members (14 with the federation as opposed to 7 with one association).
2005: OUR VOICE / NOTRE VOIX finally convinces the Network’s leadership to use the publication as a tool to notify its constituents of its ongoing activities. A column appears in every edition under the caption: The Network Today: Connecting New Brunswickers Who Have Experienced the Mental Health System.
JUNE 2006: According to their website, the NBMHCN has 11 active local networking groups. The four operating in English are in Miramichi, Saint John, Sussex and Woodstock; while the seven French ones are in Bathurst, Dieppe, Lac Baker, New Jersey, Saint-André, Saint-Isidore and Saint-Joseph de Madawaska.
2011: The NBMHCN’s website is taken offline.
OCTOBER 10, 2013: Twenty years later under the Chairmanship of Beatrice Loggie, the NBMHCN celebrates its struggles and successes with a provincial walk for mental health awareness in the streets of Fredericton and will conclude on the steps of Government House.
Copyright: Eugène Leblanc ”Finding our Way”