After Advocacy Day: Next Steps

On March 16, NSCSW joined together with the Nova Scotia Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA-NS) and the Nova Scotia office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA-NS), supported by Senator Dr. Wanda Thomas Bernard and SENgage, to create our first Advocacy Day. 

Bringing together community stakeholders, social workers, first voice advocates and research experts, this event was composed of two parts: a morning community forum directed to the Office of Addictions and Mental Health, and an afternoon advocacy presentation to government leadership. We were especially hopeful because Dr. Sam Hickcox affirmed that we were “preaching to the choir” and that he wanted to schedule a follow up conversation with the speakers. We are actively working to follow up with him in order to make this happen, as well as sharing with his office the direct chat transcripts of the event, which contained many thoughtful questions and comments from participants.

Our goal was to advocate for a broad community consultation, and create an opportunity for government leaders to hear directly from those affected by their policies. We also are working to ensure that these community conversations continue, and that any mental health strategy developed be grounded in the voices and perspectives of first voice speakers, and utilize an evidence-based and intersectional social justice policy framework with a strong focus on the psychosocial determinants of health.

Take action

As part of our ongoing advocacy efforts, we are hoping to create a broad community mandate for this work. As such, we invite all who attended our event, as well as all others who wish to do so, to sign our open letter, which we intend to share with our government leaders. While individually, our voices may be easy to dismiss, we believe that combined, we have the potential to transform policy and, indeed, lives.

Here’s how you can join in:

  1. Share this page and the Advocacy Day videos with people who weren’t able to join us
  2. Sign the open letter below: scroll to the bottom of the page and add a comment with your name.
  3. If you represent an organization that wishes to co-sign the letter and partner on future advocacy efforts, please contact

Open letter

We are joining our voices with those of the Nova Scotia College of Social Workers (NSCSW), which partnered with the Nova Scotia Division of the Canadian Association of Mental Health (CMHA-NS), and the Nova Scotian office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA-NS), to create its first Advocacy Day in March 2022. 

Together, we are advocating for a profound shift in the way mental health services are currently being delivered, away from addressing mental health concerns as if they were purely biological and medical conditions, or ones that short-term individual counseling can resolve alone. 


  • We believe that no amount of individual, short-term behavioral therapy or pharmaceutical medication will be enough to fully help someone whose struggle against systemic barriers of poverty, oppression and discrimination has led them to a place of hopelessness. 
  • Our well-being is inextricably linked with the well-being of every other living being, and the well-being of the eco-system within which we live. 
  • We also believe in the therapeutic benefit of clients recognizing the root systemic causes of their symptoms of distress.
  • We affirm that any policy to address mental health services in Nova Scotia must be part of a plan that centres the psychosocial determinants of health.
  • We request that all policy be developed, grounded in the voices and perspectives of first-voice community members, clients and other stakeholders.

We, the undersigned, are joining with the NSCSW and their partners CMHA-NS and CCPA-NS because we intend: 

  • to hold our elected leaders accountable to their promises, in particular to ensure a greater investment in universal mental health services for Nova Scotians;
  • to ensure that the agenda of the Office of Addiction and Mental Health is aligned with voices of addiction and mental health community stakeholders;
  • to ensure that government decisions and priorities are grounded in the voices, experiences and perspectives of the community, and reflect the need to ensure that services are delivered in ways that are culturally safe and accessible for a diverse community; and
  • to advocate for social policy and legislation that is broad, inclusive and intersectional.

It is our hope that the Advocacy Day events on March 16, 2022, will contribute to an ongoing dialogue that will build communication, collaboration and transparency between community and government, in order to improve the mental health and well-being of all Nova Scotians. 

By signing our name to this letter, we commit to continuing to advocate for these principles. 

In solidarity,

Nova Scotia College of Social Workers
Canadian Mental Health Association — Nova Scotia Division
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives — Nova Scotia Office

31 thoughts on “After Advocacy Day: Next Steps

  1. Thank you to the speakers and organizers of this event! I’m happy to add my name to this letter in support of a shift in our mental health service provision in Nova Scotia.

  2. The best for Nova Scotia is yet to come – we look forward to working collaboratively across levels of government and departments to ensure a bright future for all.

  3. Inspired by the day’s speakers and hopeful that ongoing, authentic collaboration will lead to better days for all Nova Scotians.

  4. People who suffer from severe mental illness require adequate psychological services and ongoing treatment by professionals. This service is not currently available for people like me. My disability income is slightly above poverty level and not enough to afford the pricey cost of a psychologist which I desperately require.

  5. We need strong and effective public policy and we need a mental health system that understands that our mental health and addiction system is underfunded and overly focused on a reductionistic and narrow biological understanding of mental health and wellness. I’m grateful for NSCSW’s leadership in these areas and my hope is that government will step up, certainly with ample funding, but also armed with the information these discussions provide.

  6. We need more resources and education for the professionals. There needs to be better training in a real life setting to gain a better understanding of what people are going through. We need better resources at hand and easy accessible resources for those that cant afford paid services.

  7. I concur with the guiding principles outlined in the letter for creating truly inclusive, compassionate and affirming mental health programs, which I believe also apply to all health care programs and services.

    Please add my name to this letter.

  8. To all involved in the creation of the open letter contents, thank you very much is not sufficient. In my opinion, you’ve mapped the path to what should be considered, a necessary part of social evolutions going forward.

  9. We need a mental health system that supports people when they need it. Adequate support is long overdue in this province.

  10. The costs to society and to families of not properly addressing mental health issues, far out strips the costs of properly funding a well rounded program. It’s well past time to spend our dollars where they will actually make a difference.

  11. The study by Brown, Johnson & Ross (2021) offered anonymity and exposed widespread nearly complete dissatisfaction of social workers with the way services are being offered in Nova Scotia. The recurrent theme is the need for a biopsychosocial approach. The presentations are full of fine examples of the differences this would make to Nova Scotians.

  12. A high proportion of those who come into contact with the criminal justice system have at least one diagnosable mental health need. It is estimated that more than half of the adult inmates in American and Canadian prisons have a mental health problem while the adult prison population has rates of mental illness that are up to four times greater than that for the general population. One study suggested that at least two-thirds of the population of youth correctional facilities in the United States have one or more mental disorders. Common diagnoses among youth and adult inmates include anxiety disorders, mood disorders, schizophrenia, antisocial personality disorder, attention deficit disorders, substance abuse disorders, depression, and trauma disorders. In recent decades there has been a significant increase in the number of interactions between police and those with mental illness and Canadian research shows that people with mental disorders are three to five times more likely to come into contact with the police than the general population.

    At the very least, children who have experienced trauma, exhibit anxiety, have cognitive and other developmental deficits, or are from high-risk environments (in particular, broken homes), should be screened at a young age, even before any symptoms emerge, for neuropsychological or pre-frontal cortical deficits. For high-risk children, the treatment of any biological, cognitive, or psychological problems by the health care system should be coupled with programs and services that seek to improve the social environment of the child and/or nurture personal protective factors, (e.g., cognitive and social competency skills) to increase the child’s resilience. Early intervention programs that help to nurture a loving and functional family and school environments, such as home visitation services by trained professionals, or enriched pre-school programs that provide cognitively stimulating and enriching experiences, have shown to offset numerous biological, cognitive, psychological or social environmental risk factors.

    As such, I fully endorse the proposition that “mental health services in Nova Scotia must be part of a plan that centres the psychosocial determinants of health.”

  13. I’m happy to add my name to this letter. We need access for individuals and the families that support them and I extend my appreciation to those who are collaborating on the way forward!

  14. The letter has been a long time in coming to Nova Scotia and indeed our country. In the past, mental health patients have been tolerated as a separate part of our society. Often, these patients had been placed on acute care units and “quiet rooms” early on in their illnesses. However, if a stroke patient or a heart attack patient was isolated away from the other patients as a form of “punishment”, people would be outraged. But for some of the mental health patients, these actions are apart of their treatment. It is certainly time that we draw from our past mistakes on psychiatric units and in our communities. Especially now, due the increase of burn out experienced by so many of our Nova Scotian citizens.

  15. Mental health care must go hand in hand with policies to reduce income inequality, racial, ethnic, gender and religious discrimination. Much of the mental suffering in our society is the result of an economy structured to place more than 75% of all Canada’s wealth in the hands of only 20% of our people often achieving that result through discrimination and exploitation. In the short run we need to provide the mental health and social services care while we work toward an economy that meets people’s needs rather than just those of a small group.

  16. I am so glad to see this being brought to light. Too much emphasis on short term therapy –

  17. Absolutely start to view people who are not afforded basic needs, basic income, basic housing, healthcare, and then can not access services that would support these oppressive struggles; it makes sense that people consume substances to cope; meet PWUD with safe supply and start to fix the societal ills that contribute to the traps of hopelessness and criminalization.

  18. I agree with Tom Webb (above) who calls for wealth redistribution so that the province can address housing issues and provide adequate basic income supports to everyone. A person needs a safe home so they can go and cry their eyes out after a therapy session. Funding the therapy session is not enough!

  19. This letter – the principles which it articulates and the political commitments that it calls for – is deeply rooted in the teachings of experience, social conscience and good faith deliberation. Its recipients would be well advised to give it all the attention it is due, and to act without delay to introduce meaningful system-wide reforms that are called for in Nova Scotia’s mental health and community services.

  20. This letter and the comments below it reflect what is needed to truly support people with mental health challenges. We are individuals. We need our unique situations to be heard, and responded to in a way that addresses them.

  21. There are no easy answers. “Woke” rhetoric & vision statements need to operationalized at some point. Some examples of the budget….$ for withdrawal management is nice except (despite assertions to the contrary) in-patient detox beds accross NS have been significantly reduced over recent years although few people seem to know or care ; $ for new clinicians over the next 2 years is good and they can be easily absorbed across NS however if recruitment & more importantly staff retention remains a problem it really has little meaning…$ for “addiction hubs” has potential (even if they are a reinvention of the wheel that has been methodically flattened) however it appears to still be 2 year time frame for something that was put forward as an election promise in the spring of 2021. I had understood from the Forum that it was to be quicker…. $ for 2 “Clinical Assistants” for CBRM is also nice except the area is down 8 psychiatrists who obviously are not costing anything… It would be good if less effort was placed on impression management & more on open and honest consultaions including internal staff….I don’t mean token pro forma events that go nowhere…PS Some may wish to search on line for Saltwire’s Jim VIBERT article “Rationed Beds and Rationed Booze” for a primer on withdrawals/detox…Fun fact…it isn’t about feeling shakey after an all inclusive Southern resort vacation…..

  22. It is important that mental health issues be addressed in all levels of government. Help is needed in schools from Primary to Senior High, and should be available in each school, not just one or two days a month. This letter certainly demonstrates the concerns people are experiencing and the need for all communities to be involved in making changes.

  23. Grateful for the opportunity to add my name to this. Reduction of system stressors, widely available and long term mental health services, as well as widely accessible parenting guidance for parents of children ages birth to early adult hood, is a requirement in order to nurture healthy families and communities and next generations. Ongoing parenting supports will also greatly reduce incidents of physical and emotional abuse and neglect and increase attunement and connection between parents and children of all ages. Attachment is for life.

  24. I commend everyone’s work at all levels toward improving mental health and well-being in the province, including individuals, families, groups, communities, professionals and government stakeholders. Jim Morton’s important statement that the current system is “overly focused on a reductionistic and narrow biological understanding of mental health and wellness” can help us move in new directions. Mental health cannot be slotted into a discrete silo, separated from an equitable society. Collectively as service users and providers, we need to work together to find new language to engage and rebuild the health of our families and communities. Social work with groups can be an important tool in creating new pathways to these goals.

  25. I am happy to add my name to this letter. Every day in my work as a front line social worker I see mental health needs not sufficiently addressed by our current system. We need to go so much further then we are currently.

  26. Here we are in 2022 with Detox staff laid off detox’s closed never to reopen and access to Mental Health almost none existent because of staff shortages and wait times! It’s very difficult to be hopeful when you’ve been on the inside looking out and today staff and beds are gone People need help NOW😢😢

  27. It is now time to act. I add my name to the letter as we need to think about the mental health needs of all citizens in the context of their lives and the factors that contribute to wellbeing and not just treatment. But treatment also needs to be addressed and we need to address the broken mental health and addictions system.

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