Social Network of Women

November 4, 2023

Check against delivery


Before I begin, I would like to acknowledge that we’re gathered here today on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinabe people. It is important to recognize the history of this land. In doing so, we encourage reconciliation and promote understanding and respect.

Thank you very much for your invitation.  The subject of mental health is very important to me.

I would like to thank you for inviting me here today to address a very difficult topic: mental health.

I say difficult because not everyone likes to talk about their mental health.

As we all know, physical health and mental health are linked, with many different causes and treatments available for both. Yet, despite our scientific knowledge, there is still stigma towards mental health. People in need feel like they can’t speak up … they can’t ask for help.  This create a big challenge for those working in mental health.

In fact, stigma prevents forty per cent of all people with anxiety or depression from seeking help, according to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

As Governor General and as part of my mandate, I want to build on the work already in progress to de-stigmatize mental health, so it receives the attention and compassion and understanding it deserves. I want to encourage people to speak up—that there’s no shame in asking for help. 

And I know that it’s hard. I know how hard it is to ask for help. I have dealt with my own mental health issues during my career.

I know that in some communities, for a variety of reasons, asking for help is something that simply isn’t done. 

There are serious barriers to diagnosis and treatment that stem from this stigma. And these barriers are indiscriminate. They impact women, men, children and people of all identities. They affect people in all communities, of all cultures and of all backgrounds.

And these barriers can take many forms.

And there may also be a financial component. Perhaps they are economically dependent on others and are afraid to ask for help. Or perhaps they do not have the necessary resources to get the help they need.

Barriers such as these could apply to all genders … all identities … all cultures … all communities. 

Whether those barriers lead to fear or misunderstanding, to embarrassment or hopelessness, they all have the same outcome: people don’t receive the help they need.

It’s up to us to remove these barriers from our society.

It requires us to support one another, just as we’re doing today, right here. It requires us to lead with understanding and respect. And it requires us to build safe spaces for all communities.

Let me go back to the example of the Akausivik Inuit Family Health Team.

Akausivik was created to fill a need for the Inuit community in Ottawa who did not have a family doctor and who did not normally seek out medical or mental health treatment.

What did we find?

Dr. Gambhir encountered people who hadn’t seen a doctor in years, and worse, who did not trust the medical community.

So Dr. Gambhir and Akausivik changed the message. They focussed on cultural respect, on good mental health and on facts about vaccines. The community saw that this medical team not only understood them, but also, literally, spoke their language. The Akausivik team explained the advantages of the health care system in a way Inuit in Ottawa could understand and trust.

They built a trusted, safe space for Inuit to get better supports, both physically and mentally.

That is what I want to convey to you today. We need each of you to find ways to contribute to building those safe spaces because people not only need to feel comfortable speaking up, they need somewhere to go after acknowledging they need help. We need to create these spaces for people seeking mental health care.

Safe spaces can be anywhere, and it can be anyplace. It can be anywhere that breaks down barriers of culture, language and understanding to access help.

Across Canada, providers are finding innovative solutions to create these safe spaces for mental health. Let me give you just two examples of what I’ve seen.

In Prince Edward Island, the Serene View Ranch offers one of the first equine programs in Canada, using horses as a way to address mental health, trauma and PTSD. The staff believe that physical and mental health go hand in hand—that they need to be treated equally—and I was delighted to see this balanced approach.

And while in Nova Scotia, I visited Laing House, where youth with mental illness are empowered through innovative programming and peer support. They use art as an outlet for young people to help address their mental health issues, and I was pleased to join them and take part in a workshop.

In speaking to them, I saw their hope shine through that things would get better. I also shared with them a word in my mother tongue, Inuktitut: ajuinnata. It means a promise, a vow to never give up in the face of challenges. It means committing ourselves to action, no matter how daunting the cause may be.

A young woman approached me and asked if that word … if ajuinnata … applied to her and to her struggles with mental health. I told her yes.

And now I share that word with you because it applies here as well.

There are many challenges we face, but the only way to face them is head on, with hope and with ajuinnata.

No matter where we come from, what languages we speak or what we believe, we all need a place to find connections.

We need to feel confident that people will take care of us. It is human nature to seek out these places where we can feel safe and be at home. And it is up to all of us to empower women to make decisions, to give them a voice and to take that knowledge back to their own communities and families.

Most of all, I hope that you will be kind to each other and with yourself. You can’t be all things to all people. Maybe you will be the one to tell the stories, to encourage people to speak up. Maybe you’ll contribute to building the safe spaces that can help other women stay safe or be healthy. Don’t feel the need or the pressure to do it all. Take care of your own mental well-being as you take care of others.

As you speak up … as you build the safe spaces … as you change your community … I hope that all of you will take to heart your own power to make a difference.

You all have the capacity to help others and have a positive impact.

I have seen the amazing potential of Canadians—newly arrived and those who have been here all their lives. As governor general, I have honoured their wonderful good deeds through the Canadian Honours System, with the Order of Canada, the Meritorious Service Decorations, the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers, and many more.

I encourage you, when you see people making a difference in your community, to take a moment to recognize their accomplishments, and to nominate a deserving individual in your life.

Thank you for welcoming me here today. It has warmed my heart to see you here.  Let us move forward together, and with ajuinnata in our hearts.

Thank you.