Karen Minden on Evidence Based Mental Illness Treatment in Ontario

Meet Karen Minden, C.M., PhD 

One has only to read the notes on the Governor General of Canada’s website to learn why Karen Minden was awarded the Order of Canada in 2010. Part of the biographical note on the GG’s site reads: “With compassion and determination, Karen Minden has provided hope for youth in crisis and their families. She is co-founder and chief executive officer of the Pine River Institute, a holistic residential treatment centre for teens struggling with mental health issues and substance abuse. Highly regarded for making the Institute a pioneer in measuring treatment results, she has also contributed to policy development related to teens and addictions in several provinces.” 

Now retired, Karen continues to serve in a variety of ways and we are very fortunate to have her as a member of our Advisory Panel

Here, Karen Minden speaks in her own words about her commitment to mental health care and her ongoing professional relationship with Eli’s Place. 

A commitment to evidence based treatment in Ontario 

My commitment to helping transform mental health care in this country began when I saw how effective treatment could save lives – and families – just over 20 years ago. Observing first-hand the positive impact of youth residential treatment and wilderness therapy in a U.S. program, I was determined to bring the model to Canada. As the Founding CEO of Pine River Institute, which opened in 2006, I was equally determined to measure the effectiveness of the Canadian treatment centre we eventually created. The team of founders were committed to accountability to the young people we treated, their families, and our funders (donors, clients, and government). Within a few months of opening, the evidence began to roll in. The program worked, where others had failed and fourteen years later, with an impressive accumulation of evidence, we know how many lives have been saved. Pine River Institute  is a model which is starting to have a greater influence in the treatment of youth mental illness and addiction.

The connection to Eli’s Place

When Deborah and David Cooper asked me to share my experience of creating a residential treatment centre, I was happy to impart whatever knowledge and experience might be useful to them and their team. This kind of initiative is a steep uphill climb, and I admired their tenacity, as well as that of their team of supporters.  It is a privilege to be part of the evolution of Eli’s Place, a centre that is desperately needed to alleviate the suffering of young people and their families, and give them the best life possible. 

Karen’s essentials for success

Eli’s Place is committed to what I believe are the essentials to a successful treatment program, and to what Canada’s mental health system needs in order to move forward: family-centred care, a variable length of stay, individualized treatment programs – using multi-modal therapies including nature-based therapy, residential treatment for those who need intensive care, and a commitment to accountability through measuring impact.

“The momentum of Eli’s Place is tangible”

Since my retirement from active leadership of Pine River Institute and Foundation, my role as advisor to several mental health start-ups is exciting and rewarding. It is heartening to see the dedication and energy of people who know we can do better, and are not waiting for others to do it. This is a frontier that is gaining ground, and it is exciting to be able to contribute to its success. The momentum of Eli’s Place is tangible. It will be an important breakthrough in the transformation of mental health care for young people and their families, and I am honoured to be part of it. 

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