The newest member of the Toronto Police Services board, Sri Lankan-born Uppala Chandrasekera, had an early awareness of mental health issues even as these did not have a name at the time.
She moved to Canada with her family when she was eight years old, at a time when violence in her home country was intensifying.
There was a tightly knit Sri Lankan community in Hamilton, Ontario where she grew up. But while her compatriots did not say much, anxiety and stress across generations were palpable. They were, after all, in a foreign country and were not allowed to assimilate much.
Later on, Chandrasekera realized there was a name for this condition: Resettlement stress.
In a 2015 episode of the talk show Open Chest, she said she had planned on being a lawyer but decided on becoming a social worker. She made the change while working as a correctional officer and seeing young people struggling with mental health issues but not getting the support and treatment they needed.
Last week she was appointed to the board by the cabinet of Premier Kathleen Wynne; she will serve for the next three years.
She will be sworn in by police services board chairman Andy Pringle next Thursday.
Before her appointment, Chandrasekera was director of policy and planning at the Canadian Mental Health Association.
In her TV interview Chandrasekera also talked about her actively applying to become part of the CMHA. She recalled receiving a copy of the association's National Strategy for Mental Health and thinking she believed in everything that was there.
Three years later, she was elected vice chairman.
She was president of the board at the Parkdale Community Health Centre on Queen St. W. and served as strategic policy adviser to the province’s Human Services and Justice Coordinating Committee. The committee complements government efforts to make the judicial system fairer and more inclusive.
She described seeing mental health issues as being in a spectrum rather than being an either-or situation. “We all go through these phases of anxiety and stress,” she said. Often people pretend it does not exist.
Because of the stigma attached to having mental health issues, people wait and wait until their situation has become chronic.
Chandrasekera has written extensively on discrimination in the health care system.
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