Panel to focus on urban mental health

A health specialist says where people live in a city has a direct bearing on their mental state.

On Feb. 17, three scientists who come from very different backgrounds will speak in Toronto at the year’s first installment of Café Scientifique. The panel discussion, called Café Scientifique, will focus on how people can make their neighbourhoods positive places for mental health.

Philosopher Mark Kingwell will moderate a panel consisting of geographer Jim Dunn, social psychiatrist Dr. Kwame McKenzie and social epidemiologist Dr. Patricia O’Campo.

O’Campo offered an example of a kind of urban neighbourhood that promotes good mental health.

“I think people associate green spaces with relaxation and see it as a stress reliever,” O’Campo said. “After a busy day, they can unwind and walk around. There is the idea of socialization and ascetic, an element of beauty.”

A study conducted by O’Campo and others at the Centre for Research on Inner City Health, identifies numerous factors that affect a person’s mental health. They included: availability of social services, community centres and a natural environment. It also suggested people can affect change to improve health.

“People can directly improve their neighbourhood with things like clean-ups on Earth Day, lobby their local councillor to get more green space, try (to) keep certain kinds of businesses coming in,” O’Campo said. “They need to take it upon themselves to organize and do things within their community.”

Dana Seguin, an in-patient volunteer at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), agrees with O’Campo, saying one of the ways to help improve a person’s well-being is to improve the surroundings.

“It helps one’s mental state when a neighbourhood becomes more upscale with fresh new ideas,” she said. “New infrastructures are being built for everyone. It’s not only new stuff for the new residents anymore. It’s new housing for the benefit of old residents as well.”

The café style aspect of the Café Scientifique event will allow the audience members to participate in the discussion and contribute their ideas with the panellists.

“Essentially, the idea behind Café Scientifique is to have a discussion about science, but not in a scientific manner,” O’Campo said. “The goal is to take a topic and approach the issue as scientists, but not in a boring way.”

The event will be open to the public, free of charge on Tuesday, Feb. 17, from 7-9 p.m. at the Gladstone Hotel, 1214 Queen St. W.