Build CAMH: Beyond Stigma

Published on April 8th, 2015 | from CAMH

Beyond Stigma

(above: Ashley Smith, MSW, and Craig Currah present to a group of students.)

By Craig Currah, Recreationist, Partial Hospital Program

A few weeks ago, CAMH received a concerned inquiry about a new program with a potentially stigmatizing name, which we were offering at the hospital. At first, I thought nothing of it – until I realized that this “new” program was actually one that I have been helping to facilitate! So before any further misunderstanding, let me explain the name and the program in a bit more detail. After all, its purpose is to dispel any myths by talking and sharing.

Beyond the Cuckoo’s Nest (BTCN) first took flight in 1987 as an innovative mental health awareness, anti-stigma, wellness initiative geared towards high school students. Given that 70% of adult mental health and addiction issues have their onset in childhood and adolescence, nurse case managers were inspired to reach out to youth in Ontario high schools with the hope of sparking meaningful conversations about these critical issues.

The name “Beyond the Cuckoo’s Nest” was inspired by the award-winning movie and novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which portrayed individual, personal struggles to see each other as people, not labels or diagnoses. This was in contrast to the movie’s depiction of an oppressive, stigmatizing environment that did not support personalized care and recovery. Our name pays homage towards creating safe, healing spaces for all, by asking students to move beyond the stigmatizing portrayal of the 1975 film (hence the name!). This 2 hour workshop continues today as CAMH’s longest-standing educational outreach program to high schoolers.

BTCN strives to create meaningful discussions around mental health and addiction issues such as reaching out to a friend, getting help, identifying early warning signs. This is done through the use of multimedia platforms, interactive activities and polls, and group discussions. Each session includes narrative stories shared by people with lived experience – the program is unique in that it is co-facilitated by front-line interprofessional clinicians and people with first-hand mental health and addiction experience. These conversations aim to get young people talking, thinking and acting on ways to confront and dismantle stigma, how they can maintain their wellness, and how they make positive changes in their communities and in social media.


Brochures and collateral about mental health from a variety of sources are made available to students

BTCN perfectly embodies CAMH Values of courage, respect and excellence. The strength of the program lies in the courage of the co-educators to open themselves up to the audience by inviting them to share their private world and to guide the young participants into the co-educators’ own personal recovery journey. Respect is inherent in this program. This is constantly demonstrated in the respectful collaboration within the interprofessional team, between the clinicians and the co-educators; respect for the commitment and contributions of each member; respect for the importance of the message being delivered and the inclusion of diversity lens in the presentation.

The earned respect that BTCN has garnered through the years from Ontario high schools is further evident in the continued rise in the requests from schools to attend this program. Achieving excellence in anti-stigma public education, outreach and the promotion of mental health awareness are key mandate of this program.

BTCN is a valuable resource to the educational system and to individuals. It assists by augmenting the mental health curriculum, and supports the responsibility of community members to initiate and sustain these important conversations around mental health & addiction issues.

In 2013, with the expansion of the Emergency Department and reconstruction of the auditorium, BTCN was relocated to the revitalized Queen St. Site giving students an opportunity to view a mental health treatment centre from both a historical and 21st century lens. BTCN has come a long way in its 28 years from its overhead projector slides. Technological, societal, and health care developments have continued to inform how this program evolves, such as with the use of a Prezi presentation and social media, and we’re not finished innovating. BTCN has future developments in mind, such as resources and downloadable tools to further augment mental health curriculum in schools. Stay tuned for more developments!

We look forward to sharing these developments in the future. But for now, we invite you to spread the word. Help us move beyond the stigma by promoting understanding and education about mental health. For more information about BTCN – and to register your school for a workshop, please contact Wanetta Doucette-Goodman at (416) 535-8501 x. 34969

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11 Responses to Beyond Stigma

  1. Annie Berry says:

    Beyond the cuckoo’s nest might be a worthwhile program, but couldn’t you find a better name especially since you are trying to fight stigma. I have mental illness and I certainly don’t identify with a rapist who is sent to a psych ward and messes with everyone’s head to their detriment. I am not cuckoo I am mentally ill because of messed up brain chemistry and if you keep putting things out there that paint the mentally ill in a negative light, then you are promoting the stigma.

  2. Heather Culford says:

    It is such a shame that a great program like this is sullied by such a stigmatizing name. The first paragraph of this post says it all…”the name is potentially stigmatizing”, we received a concerned inquiry. CAMH received more than one concerned inquiry. People who live with mental illness have told you how offensive and stigmatizing they find this program name. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest is NOT a movie about seeing individuals as people and personal struggle. This movie is about a man who rapes a 15 year old girl then fakes a mental illness to avoid going to jail. It is a movie about violent people, catatonic people and criminal people. It is also about barbaric treatment of psychiatric patients. I find it deplorable to try to dress up this movie as something inspiring and make it the face of mental illness. The CAMH posters for this program even have a picture of a cuckoo on them. I have a mental illness…I am not a cuckoo and have never been a cuckoo…so what exactly is CAMH saying we are moving on from? I think you could ask pretty much any person what they think of when they hear about the One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest movie and they will say criminals, cuckoos, violence and barbaric treatment. There is nothing hopeful or inspiring about using this program name. It is stigmatizing pure and simple. Justifying the name of the program by saying look how great our program is is just not okay. It is not right or fair to claim to help people up with one hand while you are holding them down with the other. It is not okay to make people think that anyone with mental illness is like this movie. Also this movie is 40 years old. It is 2015 now I sure hope we have moved on from defining those with mental illness from this movie. You have a wonderful and much needed program running here. Please don’t ruin it by adding to the stigma we already have to live with.

    • Craig says:

      The comment is somewhat disheartening, as our intention (as CAMH’s) would never be to have someone, anyone offended or stigmatized by what we say or do. Our goal is the opposite, we are trying to go BEYOND those old, outdated depictions of mental health and treatments for mental illness; by thinking of where we’ve been, we can identify better where we need to go and how we can start talking about those issues together. One of the points of BTCN is to confront those pre/misconceptions around people who have lived through the mental health system as well as how the media shapes our view of those affected by mental illness. BTCN has a committee of participants, those with lived experience and clinical experience, who are involved with the program. We will bring your comments to their attention.

    • eleu says:

      Could not have said it better, damn finally people are getting and aren’t afraid of speaking up.

      Thank You.

  3. Please change the name. the title serve only to perpetuate stereotypes.

  4. Kerry says:

    The name of your program “Beyond the Cuckoo’s Nest” is simply offensive. The sad fact that this name has remained unchanged since 1987 indicates a lack of discernment regarding mental illness stigmatism. The following campaigns contain non-derogatory titles – perhaps you can find some inspiration?

    Mental Health Commission of Canada

    Bell Canada

    Children’s Mental Health Ontario

    Mood Disorders Society of Canada

    Partners for Mental Health


    Southern Health Manitoba

    Partners for Mental Health

    The Canadian Federation for Students – NL

    SEE ME
    Scottish Association for Mental Health

    British Army

    Royal College of Psychiatrists

  5. jdbross says:

    I find it very disconcerting that a facility of your statute would join the ranks in stigmatizing the mentally ill. Disrespecting the mentally ill by using the slogan “Cuckoo’s Nest” is unacceptable. Please try and remember that this facility is generating revenue off this debilitating illness, thus creating jobs for the economy. Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Also, if you really think about it referencing the movie One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is not only degrading to the mentally ill but it doesn’t represent mental health treatment in high regards. Your creating an image of once deplorable conditions and horrifying treatment that patients had to endure during that time period. Do you still want society to think that psychiatric treatment is still in the stone ages? You might want to rethink this so called slogan.

  6. clark kingwell says:

    CAMH does some great things but I have to agree with the people who have commented here. The name Beyond The Cuckoos Nest leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. When I think about that movie it conjures up sickening images and stereotypes of those with mental illness. I think that movie was set in 1962 or 1963. I sure hope in 50 years we have already moved on from that. CAMH you should do much better.

  7. It’s unfortunate that some people have these feelings about the name. Not everyone can be pleased. This name was created by and for people with mental illness. This program is facilitated by people with mental illness. I think it’s helpful if we can focus on the positive attributes of this program and of recovery. I do understand it’s much easier to complain than to be thoughtful and compassionate.

    This program and the people that run it are beautiful examples of compassion, thoughtfulness, and sincerity. This program teaches how we can incorporate a positive outlook on life and what it means to apply those values for those living with mental illness and working in the healthcare world of mental illness, health and addiction.

    I hope the people who are voicing their displeasure can find it in themselves to have a positive look on this amazing program. Beyond the Cuckoo’s Nest has indirectly, without a doubt, and absolutely helped improved the lives of people like myself, families of and anybody living with a mental illness, addiction or substance use issue.


    • eleu says:

      Oddly enough you sad it all, you don’t live with mental illness and don’t relate, you are a family member. I live with mental illness and have for all of my life. So yes I am offended by: “Beyond the Cuckoo’s Nest”, for all of what the movie was and for all of what the name represents. One last thing, I also work with CAMH and find it ridiculous that CAMH wouldn’t or doesn’t know better, it’s 21st century, not the dark ages.

  8. Kevin Cheung says:

    I think the BTCN program is wonderful. Its goal to break the stigma of mental illness and the education it provides are two great aspects of the program. Education and moulding one’s way of thinking are vital components of knowledge and character building. Especially in youths, the future generation.

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