No Pill for this Ill: Our Community Vision of Mental Health

Cover art by Karen Ward

In 2013 the City of Vancouver declared a mental health crisis and set up a task force on Mental Health and Addictions to come up with an action plan. The declaration was preceded by a record high number of apprehensions under Section 28 of the Mental Health Act. Yet of over sixty members, only three members of the task force were representatives of community groups. The rest were government officials, directors and professionals.

Soon after, we found out that West Coast Mental Health Network’s Peer Support Bridge Program, Gallery Gachet, Rainier Hotel, the Drug Users Resource Centre (DURC) and Action Research and Advocacy Association of Greater Vancouver (ARA) Mental Health, all beloved and busy community spaces, were going to lose their funding from Vancouver Coastal Health. These were all peer-led, social, alternative, advocacy and non-institutionalizing spaces. Many in the community certainly felt we were in a crisis, but not the kind the City imagined.

To this day, the government hasn’t asked the community what we need and want for our mental health. People with mental illness continue to be marginalized and excluded from political decisionmaking processes which impact their lives and their wellbeing. And the social determinants of mental health, the housing crisis and poverty, continue to worsen. The purpose of this project is to build our own vision for mental health in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). A vision that centers and builds on the voices and experiences of community members and sees mental health as political, inseparable from the society we live in, not as an individual ‘disorder’ that can be cured with a pill.

While the goal of the community vision is to shed light on the social and political determinants of mental health, we want to acknowledge that the report is just a starting point for a broader vision of mental health. It doesn’t do justice to the depth and diversity of factors that impacts DTES residents mental health, including colonialism, the pain and trauma caused by racism, transphobia, violence against women, sex work antagonism, the war on drugs, homelessness, capitalism, and the accelerating exclusion of DTES residents from their neighbourhood as it gentrifies.