Nuts and Junkies: Beyond the Stereotypes Forum

On October 6, 2010, the Centre for the Study of Gender, Social Inequities and Mental Health (Centre) hosted a half-day forum that initiated multiple paths for future collaborations. As part of its Urban Health framework, the City of Vancouver facilitated a ground-breaking dialogue between mental health system users and drug users. While the integration of health policy and provision has gathered momentum, the people most affected by this process have lacked the resources to come together to explore overlapping concerns and ideas for change.

The two community organizations that shaped the event were local networks run by and for people who experience social intolerance of mental health and/or drug use problems: the West Coast Mental Health Network (WCMHN) and the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU). The provocative and humorous title of the forum emerged organically during planning committee meetings. Although the names “nut” and “junky” are pejorative labels, the act of reclaiming them speaks back to the prejudices that can be found in the health, research, and public policy professions, as well as in media representations.

The Centre’s involvement in the forum was to co-sponsor and host the event, and to provide expertise on the structuring of dialogue using the World Cafe model. Richard Ingram, a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre, participated in planning committee meetings in the dual capacity of academic and WCMHN member. Brenda Jamer, Manager of Research and Administration at the Centre, attended the forum and provided support at planning committee meetings leading up to the event.

Nuts and Junkies: Beyond the Stereotypes, in which fifty mental health system users and/or drug users participated, was remarkable in many respects. Adrienne Fitch of WCMHN, and Ann Livingston of VANDU, gave opening presentations describing the history and activities of the networks. A co-facilitated discussion of ways to break out of harmful myths about “nuts” and “junkies” paved the way for the World Cafe: a series of dialogues focusing on issues faced by members of each of the networks.

When participants reconvened to voice their opinions about the forum, it quickly became evident how successful the event had been. Wariness had diminished, enabling allegiance to emerge. When fears are overcome, and partnership is built, we empower each other to improve our lives, and the lives of people to come.

This entry was posted on Monday, November 15th, 2010 at 12:47 pm and is filed under News.