Women's College Research Institute

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Breaking down health-care silos for women

 Dr. Robin Mason

April 2012

This year’s International Women’s Day was a special one for Women’s College scientist Dr. Robin Mason. That’s because on March 8 2012, Mason and her colleague Dr. Brenda Toner (CAMH) presented their innovative new curriculum, Making Connections: When Domestic Violence, Mental Health, and Substance Use Problems Co-Occur.

With this year’s International Women’s Day theme centred around the idea of connection, Mason couldn’t have chosen a better day to share her work.

“Many women experience domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health issues at the same time, because these issues are related,” says Mason. “But too often we don’t recognize these connections and we treat the issues as unrelated. This makes it difficult for the woman to receive the most appropriate help and for front-line workers to communicate with each other.”

Making Connections is meant to help workers overcome these barriers. And even in the pilot testing phase, the curriculum has broken down walls.

“One woman who was extremely vulnerable entered a service that could not meet her needs,” says Mason. “The person working with her called someone she met at the workshop and within hours the woman was getting the help she needed.”

“In the past it would have taken days to figure out the right referral,” says Mason. “It’s so gratifying to see that already, our hard work is helping women across Ontario.”

That’s why, Mason adds, the project was named Making Connections.

“The name is emblematic of the complex links between domestic violence, mental health and substance use,” says Mason, “as well as the connections front-line workers are making with each other despite their different professions, approaches, locations, and focus.”

Funded by the province of Ontario, the evidence-based curriculum was enhanced by input gathered from 300 front-line workers from across Ontario, as well as women with lived experience. The event showcased the curriculum to different branches of the provincial government, as well as front-line workers who support women experiencing violence, mental health and or substance use problems. Also in attendance were community partners including the Ontario Women’s Directorate, the Ministry of Community and Social Services, and ECHO.

A job well done

In part as a result of this work, Mason was recently selected to receive the Excellence in Education Award at the 18th annual Nursing Network on Violence against Women International Conference in Charlottesville, Virginia. The award recognizes her many important contributions to educate health-care professionals about how to better support women who are experiencing violence.


Back to Impact April 2012

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