Highlights from OMSSA's Mental Health Forum

OMSSA hosted more than 200 delegates at our first-ever Mental Health Forum from June 13-14 in Toronto. The two-day, cross-sectoral forum featured four inspiring keynotes, 16 breakout sessions, and valuable opportunities for delegates to build new connections across Ontario's broader human services and mental health sectors. Have a look below for key highlights. 

Inspiring Keynotes

Over the two-day forum, our keynote speakers inspired delegates to examine mental health issues in new, challenging and compassionate ways, and to apply new thinking, approaches and techniques to mental health self-care, both personally and in the workplace. 

In our opening plenary, the Brainstorm Revolution troupe shared real-life and personal stories of grappling with and recovering from mental health and addictions challenges, through a mix of theatrical live storytelling and creative multimedia presentations. Brainstorm Revolution's troupe members range from TEDx presenters to Chicken Soup for the Soul contributors to members of the Order of Canada, and their shared mission is to to raise awareness, educate, and increase understanding of mental health through storytelling of lived experiences. You can find out more about their stories, their speakers and their recently published anthology at www.brainstormrevolution.com.

Day 2 of the Forum opened with an equally compelling and energetic keynote from Victoria Maxwell, one of Canada's top speakers on the lived experience of mental illness and recovery, wellness and creativity, and a self-proclaimed “Wellness Warrior” and “Bipolar Princess”. Victoria shared her story with delegates on her journey with acknowledging and treating mental illness, and how she slowly but surely built the confidence to return to work and build a brighter future that she could not have previously imagined.

Before embarking on her talk, Victoria shared her heartfelt thanks to delegates in the room, particularly those working on the front-lines of human services, noting that it was people just like them that helped her turn a corner and forge a new direction in some of her most challenging times. Victoria left delegates with a stronger understanding of how to support clients and colleagues with empathy and compassion as they returned to work after facing mental health or addictions challenges, and shared a number of related resources which are available here on our website
Our closing plenary featured two keynote addresses, the first from within our own membership. Wendy Beales, a Family Therapist with the Region of Durham, shared some promising mindfulness-based approaches to promoting mental health and well-being on the front lines of human services. The Durham Social Services Family Counselling team uses mindfulness techniques in their work with clients, helping them to step out of “reactive” or “fight-or-flight” mode, and instead cultivate better self-awareness, emotional regulation, problem-solving and psychological flexibility.

Wendy shared her insights about her team’s approach, including how and why mindfulness works, and the benefits you can see from continued practice. Delegates also had the opportunity to participate in a guided mindfulness exercise, so they could see the benefits for themselves. 

President of AGS Rehab Addie Greco-Sanchez helped to close out the Forum as our final keynote speaker. Addie is and a recognized industry leader with over 25 years of experience and contagious passion in the field of disability management and mental health. Under her leadership, AGS was recently recognized with a Canada Award for Excellence in the category of Mental Health at Work, and Addie is also the co-author of the newly released book, “The 5-Minute Recharge, 31 Proven Strategies to Refresh, Reset and Become the Boss of Your Day.”

Addie took a practical, relatable and engaging approach to discussing the challenges that we face daily as busy professionals, giving delegates tangible, actionable strategies for working wellness and self-care into their day-to-day lives in manageable ways. 

Valuable Breakout Sessions

Our program featured 16 breakout sessions, showcasing promising approaches from inside and outside of Ontario's human services sector. Delegates explored a variety of topics, from working to overcome client barriers, to trauma-informed practice, supporting children's mental health, supporting clients during a mental health crisis, working with tenants with mental illness, and strategies for building psychologically healthy workplaces. 

Breakout sessions showcased best practices, innovative partnerships and practical approaches from across the human services and mental health sectors, with presenters joining us from member organizations including Wellington County Ontario Works, City of Hamilton Public Health, York Region, City of Brantford Community Development, Huron County Onatrio Works, Durham Region's Income and Employment Division, City of Toronto Children's Services and more. 

The Forum also brought in expertise from across the broader mental health and human services sectors and beyond, with subject matter experts joining us from the Canadian Mental Health Association, the University of Toronto, McMaster University, Mohawk College, the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee, Triple P Parenting, Fred Victor, and the Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre, plus a range of independent consultants, authors, and popular OMSSA trainer and registered psychotherapist Megan Phillips. 

Presentation decks from breakout sessions and a selection of keynote addresses are available here on our website

Building Cross-Sectoral Connections

The two-day forum also offered valuable opportunities for productive discussions, cross-sectoral networking and information sharing. OMSSA was pleased to host a diverse group of participants, including front-line staff and managers from across Ontario’s 47 human service system managers, as well as colleagues from more than 30 different non-profits, mental health organizations, community service providers, colleges, and first nations communities from across the province.

As front-line staff face increasing challenges supporting clients with complex and multiple needs, the Forum offered a crucially important chance for social services providers, municipal human services staff, and mental health professionals to make stronger connections, as all of our sectors navigate a period of unprecedented transition and change.
OMSSA also welcomed a range of exhibitors who joined us to build connections and awareness with our members and delegates. Thank you to Youth Employment Services (YES) Toronto, AGS Rehab, the Brainstorm Revolution troupe, author Melanie Willard, and Saugeen Cultural & Wellness for joining us onsite to build greater awareness of different range of mental health services, social supports, and approaches to mental health and wellness.

Thank you to the 200+ delegates from across Ontario who helped make our first ever Mental Health Forum a success. After an extremely positive reception from our delegates, OMSSA hopes to host another Mental Health Forum in the near future. 

In the meantime, OMSSA is currently gearing up for our 2019 Employment Forum, happening October 1-2 in Toronto, which will be another valuable opportunity to build important connections in times of rapid change.