We’re summarizing yet another session from ACMO-CCI’s Condo Conference (2022) titled “Mind Full vs Mindful”, which dealt with the importance of being mindful of language use and mental disabilities in condo settings. This session was moderated by Sally-Anne Dooman (Director of a condominium managed by Wilson Blanchard Management, and a member of several CCI committees), and the panelists included Joy Matthews (Condominium Lawyer and Co-Founder of Rutherford and Matthews), Marc Bhalla (Mediator and Arbitrator at Elia Associates), and Deborah Howden (Partner at Shibley Righton LLP).
To start this session, the moderator asked everyone to imagine a purposely vague scene with a collection of people that one might see in a regular condo lobby setting, and some of the examples happened to be of a couple sitting on some couches, and a person waiting by the concierge.
The audience was then asked what these people looked like to them: were they people of colour? A same-sex couple? Using mobility aids? Sally-Anne stated that “we imagine people that look like us, think like us, act like us”, and noted that the takeaway of this exercise is that minorities are “often unseen” and we should all be more mindful to start “seeing people in their totality and their reality”. What a powerful exercise to open everyone’s mind to the sensitive and thoughtful content to follow!
Joy spoke next by highlighting that “awareness is a part of moving this [issue] forward or change”. He began his presentation by noting that there are three key takeaways that he’ll be discussing with the audience:
“We need to be proactive, not reactive, to this situation of mental health and condos”,
“It’s not an issue of if someone gets sick, but when”, and
“The old school way of dealing with these problems has to go away. It can’t be either ‘ignore it or enforce it’, and often it’s enforced aggressively as well, too. We need a new model”.
From here, Joy launched into his presentation by reminding the audience that people with mental illnesses “did not want this - they cannot control their mental illness and you can’t control it . . . and mental illness doesn’t discriminate with ages, cultures, socioeconomic status or genders”. He shared that he views “mental illness as an overlap between three legislative spheres”: condo, mental health, and criminal and “there’s a space in the middle, which I describe as ‘The Void’. That is where the possibility of a new proactive approach of dealing with mental health issues will come out of”.
Joy described how current measures, such as those outlined by S.117 (compliance application), police, and medical/mental health workers are reactive, as are the property managers that have “deal with it . . . until [the person] gets into one of those other legislative spheres” to act rather than approaching the problem proactively. As a step towards the topic of alternative dispute resolution, Joy recommended a podcast titled “The Trauma-Informed Lawyer” (Myrna McCallum).
Later in the seminar, Joy discussed that there are two barriers to proactivity when it comes to mental illness, which includes the “not my problem” problem (which is really just pointing fingers and “pushes people back into these [other] spheres until they get the help they need, as opposed to addressing the issues at hand).
Joy acknowledged that property managers are overworked, tired, and dealing with a lack of resources; consequently, they are unlikely to want to take on somebody else’s problems and issues due to self-preservation (putting themselves first). The second reactive problem is safety and intolerance, especially regarding elder abuse. Currently, condo professionals “don’t have the tools, terminology, or the awareness to deal with those issues and it’s growing". In order to proactively combat the above issues, he reminded everyone that condos are a condensed common community similar to families, and the right attitude is to help each other as much as possible.
Secondly, Joy stated that “enough is enough”, and that “we must protect managers from the physical and psychological stresses that [they] are receiving on a daily basis”. He noted how managers are getting “decimated”, and it often just takes one upset board member to become jobless, or to get “leveled with CMRAO applications” and complaints.
Joy acknowledged that “the stresses you guys are going through is unbelievable. The burnout’s significant and that has to stop . . We have to [also] do more ongoing training . . [and] we really, really have to legislate zero tolerance harassment of managers on the premises. Otherwise, we’re going to keep talking about these same problems”.
Marc added to the seminar by creatively discussing the four trauma responses used as a way to protect yourself and survive: fight, flight, freeze, and fawn, and how the fawn response is what he’s most concerned with for the condominium industry because people use it to get through a situation by agreeing “to everything that the person wants to allow you to move forward”. People tend to use the methods that were modeled to them, or were successful in the past, to get through situations - to survive when feeling threatened in a certain way. He noted the importance of considering what we’re projecting that may be triggering or threatening to others in order to better communicate with others.
Next, Deborah began her presentation by noting her two main goals: reducing stigma, and increasing respectful communications when it comes to residents. Just as Sally-Anne had done in the beginning of the session, Deborah ran through some scenarios with the audience that relied on their gut reaction by polling the audience with two questions: (1) Could saying that someone “committed suicide” be interpreted by some as disrespectful or stigmatizing? And asking whether it was true or false that (2) the biggest problem arising from mental illnesses in a condominium community is the tendency for extreme or unpredictable behaviour”.
The majority of the audience agreed that saying someone “committed suicide” can be interpreted by some as disrespectful or stigmatizing, but what made this particularly interesting was that it demonstrated that most people are accepting that language can cause offence - which Deborah noted is a recent evolution. She also stressed that “the vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent ahn anybody else” and further noted that “the stats say that between 3-5% of violent behaviour is committed by individuals living with mental illness . . . so it’s a myth to suggest that if someone has a mental health condition, they’re more prone to unpredictable behaviour”.
Deborah further reminded the audience that “mental health illness is a very broad classification for many disorders at various degrees of severity . . . it really is a basket of very many conditions” and stressed that AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) requires that we consider a person’s disability when communicating with them - including mental disabilities.
Deborah’s suggestion for using mindful communication is through “person-first language”, which focuses on the person and deemphasizes the illness, disability, or condition. She compared the language used for people with physical illness vs. mental health illness and pointed out that “we don’t say that someone is ‘suffering from asthma’ or ‘suffering from diabetes’, we say that ‘have asthma’, they ‘have diabetes’ - so the language should be the same. Saying “people suffer from a mental illness or are afflicted by mental illness, or are a victim of mental illness… that sounds like they’re unhappy, and that the world paints the mental illness as a weakness”. Being respectful via language will build better relationships and go further in your condominium community because “this language can be the difference between somebody feeling accepted in your community and included as opposed to made to feel different or unsupported”.
Using effective (evolving) language means being attuned to the connotations of language. For when mistakes happen, Deborah advised using “A.C.T.”: apologize, correct, and try again. “When somebody with a mental illness feels respected and heard, they’re more likely to return respect and consider what you have to say. And they’re much more pleasant to deal with in the community. It’s going to help your relationship."
Lastly, Deborah polled the audience again: “accessibility refers to the ability or inability of people to physically access premises: yes or no?”, and “AODA uses the same definition of disability as under the Human Rights Code: true or false?”. After the results for both polls had been tabulated, she noted that AODA doesn’t just deal with our default idea of physical accessibility, but with visible and invisible mental health disabilities as well. “If you’re disabled under the Human Rights Code, you’re disabled for the purposes of AOTA as well, [including] invisible disabilities and mental health disabilities in particular.
Deborah also noted the differences between AODA and the Human Rights Code, which “both deal with discrimination, but from different perspectives. AODA wants to tackle access barriers systematically, before anyone makes a complaint. They want access barriers to be removed. The Human Rights Code is focused on individual accommodation, not systems. AODA proactively sets standards for all affected organizations - and if your organization has one employee or more, you’re affected. The Human Rights Code reactively interprets inaction or action that may constitute discrimination . . they both deal with discrimination, [but] the focus is different”.
Furthermore, Deborah provided examples of situations of accommodations (such as having to be considerate of suite entry when dealing with some residents that require accommodations, or allowing the use of service animals), and noted that such an approach is required under AODA. She noted that cases like this don’t have a one-size-fits-all solution, and seeking the counsel of your corporation’s solicitor is very important to understanding one’s obligations.
Overall, this was a dense session with lots of great points, however, the key takeaway was clear: being considerate in condo communities is not only the right thing to do, but often, is the legally-required approach (especially when dealing with mental health issues and disabilities). The manner in which we communicate and the language used must be mindful in that it uses people-first language and understands connotations. And when making a mistake, don’t forget to A.C.T.
We know we’ll certainly be more mindful and aware of the constant evolution of language and its impact on individuals and collective condo communities! Thank you to the panelists for this valuable session!