Let's Talk Psychiatry
When Bell launched its annual Let’s Talk Day seven years ago, it was a bold public gesture: get people talking and texting about their experiences with mental health and put an end to the stigma one conversation at a time.
As I think about the significance of this day, I marvel at how far those conversations have advanced from where they stood when I first began my career as a psychiatrist. Today, in high schools and postsecondary campuses, in workplaces and around kitchen tables, people are no longer suffering in silence. And these conversations aren’t whispered, but spoken loudly, clearly and out in the open. That’s thanks to brave individuals discussing their struggles, but it’s also due to the work done by academic psychiatrists to better understand and treat mental illness and the associated challenges.
We can all take great pride in the psychiatric research and training delivered by the University of Toronto and its affiliated teaching hospitals, especially the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Fully one quarter of Canada’s psychiatrists train at U of T. And their impact is felt far beyond our border. As a former chair of the department, you might think I’m biased. But, let me note that the U.S. News and World Report ranks U of T 12th in the world in psychiatry/psychology. So I’m not the only person seeing our good work.
Research in neuroscience, genetics, imaging and early childhood development is bringing new insights into our practice — and attracting more students to the specialty. The department has 196 residents and 80 fellows — in addition to supporting the education of all our MD students — and nearly 1,000 faculty members. Its eight divisions include three accredited subspecialties: child and adolescent psychiatry, forensic psychiatry and geriatric psychiatry. It is also delivering continuing education — with 88 events last year — to psychiatrists and physicians to ensure the latest knowledge generated through research is translated into new practices and treatments.
But I am most proud of our leadership to better integrate mental health alongside physical health. We are working to ensure we’re treating the whole patient, and not individual conditions as though they’re not attached to the same person. We’re doing that by providing more mental health training to physicians in different disciplines — especially family medicine — as well as other health professions. We have also undertaken initiatives like the Medical Psychiatry Alliance (MPA), which is dedicated to transforming the delivery of mental health services for patients experiencing physical and psychiatric illness or medically unexplained symptoms. With 1.3 million people suffering from both physical and mental illness in Ontario, this effort is desperately needed.
The strength of psychiatry at U of T lies in its people, who seek to better serve their patients. They include Department Chair and Professor Benoit Mulsant, who leads the MPA in addition to overseeing this productive department. Professor Sanjeev Sockalingam, Deputy Psychiatrist-in-Chief at University Health Network, is overseeing curriculum renewal as part of the MPA to ensure our students benefit from the most innovative mental health education possible. And Professor Vicky Stergiopoulos, the new Physician-in-Chief at CAMH, has led the development of a number of innovative homelessness programs. She researches the interplay between mental illness, addiction and social disadvantage. Psychiatry has deep bench strength in Toronto and these are just a few of the people who are driving this department forward. Many more work tirelessly for their patients — advocating for access and equity, timely care and innovation.
Ultimately, the practice of psychiatry — like every health discipline — is rooted in a commitment to our patients. It’s about helping them enjoy the highest quality of life possible. We do that grounded in an understanding of mental health rooted in science and with a fundamental respect for the dignity and wellbeing of our patients. It’s an obligation we take seriously. As the vision of the psychiatry department states, we are committed to the “…full social inclusion of people with mental illnesses and their families.” So let’s keeping talking — and researching and advocating — about how best to do that.
Dean, Faculty of Medicine
Vice-Provost, Relations with Health Care Institutions
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