Meet the Champions of Mental Health Care

St. Michael’s major donors have helped the hospital to become a driving force in mental health awareness and care.


They're the main cause of severe emotional, behavioural and physical health problems, as well as disability. They cost Canadian healthcare and social support systems tens of billions of dollars each year. They're mental illnesses—and whether depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, substance use, suicidal ideation or another serious condition, they're something one in five Canadians struggle with, and still experience the stigma of.

St. Michael’s sees the consequences of mental health challenges every day. In fact, we serve communities with some of the highest rates and largest populations of mental health and addiction issues. That’s precisely why we’re constantly innovating in mental health care—and why we’ve emerged as a leader in therapies for treatment-resistant disorders. It’s also why we feel privileged to have visionary donors as partners to give our health teams and patients an urgently needed boost. Here are four of those mental health champions.

For starters, Scotiabank has partnered with us to grow our model Mental Health Peer Support Initiative.

Twenty-five years ago, St. Michael’s became the first hospital in Canada to hire mental health peer support workers—those who have experienced mental health issues of their own and can gain the trust of clients facing their own challenges. They provide individual and group services to patients when they’re admitted to hospital, and they help clients find the strength to live with their mental illness. “Perseverance is one of the tent poles of recovery,” says peer support worker Faith Rockburne, who makes sure clients feel safe and comfortable discussing their perceived failures—and shows them how to get past them.

Providing optimal mental health support is all about making real connections, and that’s what the mental health navigator program—with funding from The Slaight Family Foundation–is all about, too.

The outreach program supports people struggling with serious mental health or developmental issues, as well as homelessness or precarious housing. As Dr. Kathryn Dorman, in the family and community medicine department, says: “The navigator provides trauma-informed care to clients, treating them with dignity and helping them to achieve safety. They form meaningful, productive connections with people who have had difficulty connecting with healthcare providers previously.” That’s true whether the navigator is meeting a client for coffee, or accompanying them to a medical appointment or urgent surgery.

This past year, The Slaight Family Foundation also helped launch a community-based mental health program for underserved youth.

Transitional-aged youth (TAY), broadly those between the ages of 16 and 29, experience higher rates of mental distress than any other age group. TAY in Black communities are especially vulnerable, yet are chronically underserved. So, St. Michael’s teamed up with Black Youth Helpline to offer timely and targeted psychiatric assessments and medical treatments. “This initiative is a powerful expression of our commitment to break down barriers to accessing urgent mental healthcare,” Chief of Psychiatry Dr. Karen Shin says. “So everyone has equal opportunity to thrive.”

The Research Innovation Council (RiC) is a group of visionary donors who are funding research projects with the potential to lead to big medical breakthroughs, including two related to suicide prevention. 

Like that of neuroscientist Dr. Katharine Dunlop, who is investigating whether stimulating the brain of people with depression can decrease suicidal thoughts and behaviours, so we can offer more personalized, preventative treatments. Meanwhile, another recipient—Dr. Sakina Rizvi, a scientist and psychotherapist in the Arthur Sommer Rotenberg Suicide and Depression Studies Program—is looking into whether biological markers can be used to identify if someone is susceptible to suicide. Dr. Rizvi says: “The big goal is intervening with new treatments that target those markers and prevent suicide.”

And thanks to the Harold E. Ballard Foundation, who partnered with us this past year, we are creating safe, welcoming spaces in our Slaight Family Emergency Department (ED) for patients in crisis.

The ED is the primary entry point for care for nearly 20 percent of all of our mental health clients. But it is an emotionally-charged environment, making optimal care that much more challenging to provide. With the renovation of our ED, though, we will have de-escalation rooms, supported by the Harold E. Ballard Foundation, which will serve as quiet areas for our clients when they feel the need for calm, and a refreshed Rotary Club of Toronto Transition Centre, a temporary shelter for those experiencing mental health issues and homelessness.

We’re grateful to all of our donors for helping us provide the exceptional mental health care our community deserves.

For more on how you can support pioneering mental health care at St. Michael’s, reach out to Justyna Jonca at

Donate to St. Michael's Foundation.

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