Kim Dixon began her journey to mental health leadership in 1998, when she started working at the BC Schizophrenia Society (BCSS) and became aware of mental illness within her own family. This lived experience led her to advocate for families in northern BC who have loved ones experiencing mental illness and/or addiction and help them build their capacity through innovative peer support initiatives.
Kim quickly recognized the challenges of serving families across northern BC’s large – and primarily rural and remote – geographic area. With limited resources, she knew she had to build capacity in families so they could support others in turn. In 2007, she created her signature initiative, the Family Alliance on Mental Illness – Leaders in Involvement, Empowerment & Support (FAMILIES).
Using a trauma-informed practice model, FAMILIES reduces barriers to accessing education, systems navigation and advocacy in northern BC. People learn to cope with the challenges of their loved ones’ mental illness and/or addiction and eventually take on advocacy and peer support roles of their own. Kim has an active caseload of up to 100 families per year through the program.
Additionally, family support groups, education workshops, courses and outreach services are offered in communities throughout northern BC. In fall 2018, Kim piloted a new initiative – FAMILIES in Residence – where she and other peer supporters meet with family members in hospitals’ acute psychiatric care wards, building in-person connections and sharing resources available through BCSS.
Despite its name, the BC Schizophrenia Society’s programs are open to people affected by all types of mental illness or addiction. Still, Kim realized that people were sometimes confused by the organization’s name, so she has worked to make sure people with all backgrounds and experiences know they are welcome. She models an inclusive, culturally sensitive work approach, embracing the healing needs of Indigenous peoples and participating in reconciliation workshops with the Returning to Spirit program.
Dave Halikowski, BCSS’s president, says Kim leads by example as “the pioneer” who brings new mental health supports and programs to the north, from FAMILIES to the mental health family involvement policy she helped draft as a member of the Prince George Mental Health and Addictions Advisory Committee. Kim has built partnerships with Northern Health, the Native Courtworker & Counselling Association of BC, community health organizations and school districts to build awareness about mental illness, and she has been an active patient partner with the Patient Voices Network since 2011. And in 2016 she became Canada’s first certified family peer supporter through Peer Support Canada.
For over two decades Kim has brought mental illness into the mainstream discussion of health care in northern BC, reducing the stigma that can make families reluctant to advocate for themselves and their loved ones. Her leadership has fostered an environment of support and understanding where families are empowered to cope with the challenges of mental illness and addiction, and to participate as active partners in their loved ones’ care.