Pat Capponi is CivicAction’s 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award for civic leadership recipient. A tireless mental health advocate, Pat was recognized for her work at MetroNext on March 23, 2018 at Union Station. For more leadership spotlights, click here.
Imagine being discharged from a mental health facility and attempting to get back on your feet, only to hear someone say they were afraid to go outside because people like you lived in the neighbourhood. That your fellow residents thought they might get robbed if they passed by your home. That you and other mental health patients had been “dumped” into the area.
Imagine being at a community meeting hearing this, and then stepping forward to speak your truth.
This is exactly what Pat Capponi did in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood. Now, Pat is the recipient of CivicAction’s 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award for civic leadership.
Since that day, Pat has been a tireless advocate for people living with mental health challenges and who are experiencing poverty and homelessness. Much of that work has included efforts to bring people’s lived experience to those shaping the mental health system.
“That meeting taught me the critical importance of speaking your truth. If we didn’t speak out, other people would define us in the most brutal and callous of ways,” says Pat.
Lived experience has always been at the centre of Pat’s advocacy. Early on, Pat and fellow patients produced The Cuckoo’s Nest, a small magazine featuring personal stories from time spent in and out of hospital and psychiatric care. This pen-to-paper endeavour would be key to connecting Pat with community leaders and Ontario politicians who were unaware of the dire conditions mental health patients faced during the 1980s. It was Pat who personally toured Ontario health minister Larry Grossman through the sub-standard and for-profit homes that house mental health patients.
Yet even today, the picture isn’t fully developed. Lived experience is still needed to inform mental health policy.
“Our community is showing how policy can backfire to be not what was intended,” says Pat, “If we don’t speak then it leaves decision and policy making in the hands of others.”
Pat’s efforts have accumulated into a legacy of bridge building. By taking the voice of lived experience and putting it into conversations where it can do the most good, Pat has worked to expand the understanding of Ontario’s politicians, psychiatrists and policy makers on the experiences and challenges her community faces. Through her involvement on CivicAction’s Mental Health in The Workplace Champions Council, Ontario’s Mental Health and Addictions Leadership Advisory Council, Toronto’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Advisory Group and more, Pat has been the key voice for those with mental health and addiction issues in the province.
Today, aside from being an accomplished author of seven books and a member of the Order of Canada, Pat continues to build new alliances and relationships to include the mental health community in more conversations. For emerging leaders looking to make change, her advice is to go to the areas, issues, and spaces where you may not be wanted. In Pat’s experience, it’s often where you’re able to make the biggest impact.
“It’s easy to walk away from something but harder to stay in there and fight,” says Pat, “Advocacy is like a profession. It’s something you have to keep honing your skills at.”
Through her commitment and passion for mental health, Pat Capponi has created a unique footprint for civic leadership and a model to be followed by all.