Manitoba

New Mental Health Minister Audrey Gordon says issues are personal

Audrey Gordon has watched a family member struggle to navigate services to deal with his mental health issues, and she wants to use her new role as a cabinet minister to make sure that's not the case for others. 

Family member struggled with mental health issues, so she knows accessing care can be difficult

PC MLA for Southdale Audrey Gordon now leads the newly created Department of Mental Health, Wellness and Recovery. (James Turner/CBC)

Audrey Gordon has watched a family member struggle to navigate services to deal with his mental health issues, and she wants to use her new role as a cabinet minister to make sure that's not the case for others.

Gordon was named minister of the newly created Department of Mental Health, Wellness and Recovery on Tuesday.

The issue of mental health services is close to Gordon's heart because she had a family member who had mental health issues.

She watched him struggle to figure out how to get help and what services would be best for him. 

"And so I want to be sure that an individual is accessing the right array of services and to ensure — this is very important to me — that we ensure that treatment is culturally relevant and appropriate for the individual," she said in an interview with Information Radio host Marcy Markusa. 

While her family member's story has a happy ending, she said she knows for many families, that hasn't been the case. 

"We want to turn that around," she said. 

Gordon also wants to make sure she sets a good example for her team and for Manitobans in terms of taking care of her own mental health. 

"I'm making sure that I find time within my schedule every day, even now, to exercise and to meditate, because I want to be a role model of good mental health and wellness," she said. 

"I want to lead by example … so I really have to work on ensuring I have work-life balance."

Earlier in the week, mental health advocates said the creation of the new ministry is exactly what Manitoba needs right now to help bring these issues to the forefront — especially during a pandemic that has left so many feeling anxious and isolated. 

Chris Summerville, the CEO of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, said he wants to see more focus on promoting mental health and wellness, rather than just treating mental illness. He'd also like to see the province do more to act on the recommendations outlined in the Virgo report, a lengthy review of the Manitoba mental health and addictions system published in 2018. 

Gordon said she intends to act on the recommendations outlined in that report.

Addictions recovery

British Columbia has a mental health and addictions minister, a portfolio created in 2017.

Gordon said while her title does not include addictions, that doesn't mean it isn't an important part of the portfolio.

"It's certainly embedded, very much so, in the work and in the title of the department, but we are focused on bringing people through their addictions to recovery," she said. 

Gordon's mother lives in Ontario and watched her swearing-in ceremony via the province's live stream on YouTube. Her family didn't know she was about to become a cabinet minister, she said.

"I think she was running around her retirement residence building and she was so happy," said Gordon, who is Manitoba's first Black cabinet minister. 

"It was a really great surprise for my family."

Her father died about three years ago, but it was always his dream for her to be a cabinet minister, Gordon said. 

"I know how thrilled he would have been to see that dream of his come to fruition, so I'm very happy today."

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

With files from Marcy Markusa

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