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The CatalystConversations on Mental Health

Valuing lived and living experience

This article is part of The Catalyst series called Language Matters.

While many social movements use the saying “nothing about us without us,” it also applies to the fields of mental health and substance use health. To make meaningful improvements in policies, support services, and systems of care, the voices of lived and living experience must be part of the conversation. This way, assumptions can be replaced with real experiences, and solutions can be challenged by those who stand to gain or lose the most.

Illustration of two people talking

The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) places great emphasis on using “lived and living experience” because it emphasizes individuals over the stigmatizing effect of labels that demean and prevent people from seeking treatment. So, instead of referring to someone as a “former addict,” it’s more respectful and more in line with the process of recovery to say, “a person who has had lived experience of a substance use disorder.”

In the mental health and substance use health context, the term “lived experience” refers to someone who has previously had a mental health problem or illness or used one or more substances. Similarly, “living experience” refers either to a current mental health problem or illness or an ongoing use of one or more substances.

Sometimes, lived and living experience includes family members and caregivers. While a close relative may not have first-hand experience of a mental illness or substance use disorder, they are often intimately familiar with challenges such as accessing services for their loved ones.

As a concept, consider finding new ways to incorporate lived and living experience into your work or conversations about mental health and substance use health. In this respect, the MHCC is fortunate to have Hallway Group members’ valuable insights into lived and living experience to help guide our work.   

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

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