Beginnings of CMHA National Consumer Advisory Committee

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An undated (pre-1991) The National newsletter article prepared by Bonnie Pape, Framework Project Associate CMHA National offered some background on the development of the National Consumer movement within CMHA.  In 1983, a resolution passed at the National Annual Meeting called for “increased involvement of consumer volunteers.”  A second resolution in 1986 proposed that CMHA operationalize its commitment to consumer participation at all levels of the Association.

This resolution followed up on the first search conference held in Ottawa in 1985.  The first Framework for Support document had launched the philosophy of the Community Resource Base that put Consumers in the centre of mental health initiatives.  Consumers were defined as “people with direct experience of significant mental health problems who have used the services available from the mental health system.”  It should be noted that there has always been uneasiness and controversy about this definition, within and beyond CMHA.  Dave Beamish of British Columbia, a founder of the Vancouver Mental Patients Association and an original member of the Consumer Participation Task Group argued:

Whatever we call ourselves, surely the right to choose freely is what’s most important.  A little perspective is necessary here.  We consumers, survivors, mental health paitents, etc. have far too much of significance to accomplish than to waste ourselves on trivia.

The Consumer participation definition was developed to state.

The process of involving people who have directly experienced a mental health problem in all aspects of planning and decision making both at the individual and community levels and in the social, economic and political spheres.  When this occurs, “clients” become “citizens.”