Although the focus of the event was a BBQ and outdoor activities, for EA staff the gathering was more than about burgers and bocce. The event triggered our awareness of how we are all touched by someone who grapples with mental health or addiction, and how our perception of mental health is quickly altered by injecting ourselves into the community.
The morning began with an orientation session where the CAMH coordinator relayed stories about the history of the 165-year-old organization and how its clinical care, research, education and health promotion programs help transform and support the lives of those affected by mental health and addiction. Then came the BBQ main event. How could a group of EA employees with limited knowledge in this area help the CAMH? Before we knew it, all seventeen of us were hauling boxes of food, bags of balls, bubble-makers and a BBQ grill through the halls of the building to an outdoor courtyard.
The women set up tables with refreshments, salads, chips and veggie trays while a couple of men wielded spatulas at the grill and started flipping burgers and 'dogs. Alex Lougheed and I were quickly assigned to carve up a watermelon, while Vito DeFilippis, Martin Emslie and Jack DePoe strummed the guitar and crooned some tunes. Soon we were all serving lunch to more than twenty clients and CAMH staff members. Stephanie McIsaac broke open the box of fruity popsicles—which were a big hit—and all of us mingled together over our meals (shooing away the odd wasp that tried to join us for dessert). After lunch, several of us grabbed the bubble-makers to create cascades of bubbles, others pulled out the bocce set to play a lively game and a few just chatted while soaking up the warm afternoon sun.
By mid-afternoon, the clients and staff needed to leave for another session so our group began the clean-up. As we loaded boxes, we chatted about what we had learned about life at CAMH. Ernest Yim, who lives near CAMH, observed, “I walk by here all the time and wasn’t aware of the variety of programs and services offered by the centre. It’s really a vibrant community.”
For others, the event was a different kind of awakening. Denver Redman and Jack DePoe, both self-described social butterflies, said that the event helped them realize that being in a social setting with new people can feel especially awkward for those who coping with mental health issues. “I’ve always been comfortable in social settings, but I had to put myself in their shoes and think about how I would feel interacting with others,” said Jack.
The day may have been just a few burgers and some bocce ball, but it still gave all of us a chance to rethink how we perceive ourselves and those who are moving through depression, anxiety and addiction. Andrea Longman seemed to sum up the feelings of many when she said, “This was a new environment for many of us, and we felt good about making an impact just by being ourselves and socializing with the clients.”