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Our History

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Our History and the Evolution of Our Mission, Vision and Values

The 1970’s and the 1980’s saw the beginning of a new vision for mental illness recovery through community support. The hope was that people with mental illness could be treated in general hospitals - by their own family doctor - and mental hospitals could be used for specialized and more complex services. This process was called Deinstitutionalization.

Part of this new vision was the belief that consumers (those with direct, lived experience within the mental health system) could support one another and create changes in their communities and the mental health system as a whole. The problem was a serious underestimation of the kind of community support people needed.

In Ontario, as a result of ground-breaking reports such as Toward a Shared Direction in Ontario (1987) and Building Community Support for People (Graham Report, 1988), funding was directed to the first Consumer Survivor Initiative (CSI) in 1991.  The Consumer Survivor Development Initiative (CSDI) began its operations in the spring of that year.  CSDI was a project designed to tap into the skills and knowledge of people who had direct experience in the mental health service system and provide them with support and employment opportunities.

By the middle of June 1991, funding decisions had been made, supporting 42 programs across Ontario.

By 1992, 81 full time equivalent positions had been created by the projects with a total of 307 people employed. Three quarters of this group had been on social assistance prior to this employment.

In 1993 CSDI was fully operated by consumers/survivors.  In 1996, the newly elected government released 23.5 million dollars to enhance community mental health.  The Community Investment fund led to the formation of 24 additional CSI’s.  With these new changes, the role of CSDI began to change as well.

In 1998, CSDI started an advisory committee that in turn evolved into a Board of Directors and in 2001, CSDI changed its name to the Ontario Peer Development Initiative (OPDI) and became an incorporated entity.

The community mental health system has continued to evolve since 1991, especially in light of the vital work that our member organizations and peer support professionals have delivered through a global pandemic. This time period highlighted the success and accessible nature of peer support and CSIs’ local community service delivery model, to alleviate other pressures across Ontario’s transforming healthcare framework.

As OPDI advanced its work as the provincial voice and advocated for our members and member organizations, we continued to examine our evolving role in relation to the current needs of its stakeholders, CSls and Peer Support Organizations (PSO).

In recognition of the deep history and the success of our consumer/survivor initiatives and peer support organizations as an accessible and vital part of Ontario’s healthcare framework, we proudly and appropriately re-branded to PeerWorks in 2022.