How Canada is Pushing for Better Mental Health Care for Women

Editor’s Note: This edition of our Feminist Giving IRL (in real life) series features Dr. Vicky Stergiopoulos, Clinician Scientist and Physician-in-Chief at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canada’s largest mental health hospital and a global research leader. She is the clinical lead of CAMH womenmind, a new effort from CAMH to close the gender gap in mental health.  She is also a Professor and Vice Chair Clinical and Innovation in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. 

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Dr. Vicky Stergiopoulos, Clinician Scientist and Physician-in-Chief at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) (Photo credit: CAMH)

1.       What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession?

When I started my career as an academic psychiatrist, there were few academic women in leadership roles, and very few women role models. 

Looking back, I wish at the time there could have been more information and awareness about the gender gaps in medicine,  about ways to access mentorship, about pathways to career advancement, and frankly more transparency about the negotiable terms of my contract. To this date it is not uncommon for women to be offered less than their male counterparts for the same work.

2.       What is your current greatest professional challenge?

We have many challenges in academic medicine, and mental health is no exception.  When it comes to the health of our communities, we strive to deliver equitable access to care to diverse populations. We have more work to do to ensure good care reaches those who  need it most. In terms of supporting equity, diversity and inclusion among our faculty, as we intensify our efforts to address the gaps in this area, one of the challenges is knowing how best to engage every single one of our faculty members while at the same time we expose the biases that have brought us where we are today.

3.       What inspires you most about your work?

I am passionate about health equity and mental health. The possibility of making a positive impact in the lives of those affected, their families, and our communities, now as well as in the future, is what drives me. What this means is  not only ensuring that our diverse communities have access to the type of care they need, but  that we also generate through research and innovation the knowledge and practices we need for a better tomorrow for all.    

4.       How does your gender identity inform your work?

Being the first woman in my role as physician in chief at CAMH brings a lot of pride, as well as the burden of responsibility.  I am acutely aware of the gender gaps and barriers in mental health, and the need to accelerate progress both in improving opportunities for women and diverse population, but also creating the conditions for better care and better science, to address the needs of our communities.

5.       Do you think your gender identity has affected your career?

My gender identify has been central to how I see myself, and the opportunities or barriers that I need to leverage or navigate.

Being a senior woman leader also brings with it its own challenges, with heightened expectations and at times greater difficulty having my voice heard, compared to men.

6.       How can philanthropy support gender equality?

Philanthropy can do a lot to support gender equity, both by supporting the work of women scientists and women leaders, and by investing in discovery and innovation to address knowledge and practice gaps in women’s health.

7. In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equality movements taking us?

As we continue to build awareness about the gender gaps, and see more women in leadership roles, I see the focus in the years to come going beyond gender, to the multitude of social locations that define us, through an intersectional lens.  Gender, race, socioeconomic background, gender identity, sexual orientation, all inform our perspectives and experiences and we need to face all of our biases as we strive for meaningful inclusion.  

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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