Mental health is everyone’s business. With the pandemic, we learned to talk more openly about it and see it as a shared challenge. But it can be hard to figure out who the experts are in mental health, who to turn to in need, and even who to believe.
Who should you listen to when it comes to mental health? Who offers care? And who educates the public about these issues. This article answers these questions and demystifies expertise in mental health.
Scientific research is the foundation for care and services, mental health education and, more broadly, public health efforts. It ensures data and practices are up to date and that knowledge is developed. This is what constitutes theoretical knowledge.
Theoretical knowledge is the result of research in many disciplines (health sciences, social sciences, etc.). It can be based on quantitative or qualitative data collected using a rigorous methodology. It draws on many studies to reach a consensus and create social change. For example, it took many studies to conclude that cigarettes are harmful. 
When someone consults a health care professional (psychiatrist, doctor, psychologist, etc.), they come into contact with professional, or clinical, knowledge. Professionals do not all play the same role, and each has their field of expertise.
Psychiatrists and psychologists have the expertise to evaluate someone who is consulting them and determine what they suffer from. Psychologists can make verbal diagnoses, but, in Quebec, an official diagnosis needs to be made by a general practitioner or a psychiatrist. This can vary depending on the disorder. General practitioners can diagnose common disorders, such as depression and generalized anxiety, and psychiatrists can diagnose more serious illnesses, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. In addition to psychological evaluation, psychologists have expertise in psychotherapy. 
Social workers, couples and family therapists, psychoeducators, occupational therapists, sexologists, criminologists, guidance counsellors, and specialized nurse practitioners also have expertise to offer support.
The 1970s saw the emergence of many community organizations in Quebec, some of them dedicated to social reintegration and defending the rights of people who are living with a mental health disorder. Rooted in their community and monitoring the constantly changing needs of the communities they
serve, these organizations embody values of solidarity, democracy, equity, and autonomy. They have practical expertise that combines considerations of social justice, citizen participation, and collective well-being with knowledge of the challenges faced by vulnerable individuals and groups.  From support to community life, along with therapeutic, artistic, sports, or other activities, they contributed to recognizing experiential knowledge.
In recent years, people who have lived with mental illness are increasingly listened to and their experience recognized, even valued, particularly through what is called experiential knowledge. This type of expertise is based on truth learned through personal experience with a mental health issue, rather than truth acquired through scientific research.  This is knowledge based on experience and developed in relation to the illness and contact with people with similar experiences. It is also communal in scope, because it emerges from support groups, communities of practice in peer support, forums on social media, etc.
In practice, experiential knowledge is embodied, particularly through patients and patient partners, members of support groups and peer helpers, who complement the support of professionals.
Practice caution! Another person’s experience can’t be used for self-diagnosis. You need to check symptoms with a health care professional.
Mental health promotion
Government authorities and community organizations that work in public health also have their own expertise. They are actors in mental health promotion. These professionals draw on a range of theoretical, professional, and experiential knowledge, to simplify information and share it with the general public to improve individual and collective well-being. Their responsibility is to educate the public, raise public awareness, and offer tools for mental health.
Mental health promotion is intimately related to mental health literacy. Mental health literacy is the ability to read, understand, and name what we are experiencing and feeling. This makes it possible to understand what mental health is, to know how to recognize the main signs and symptoms of mental health problems, and to adopt tools that promote our own balance and that of those around us. Literacy also means knowing how to find available resources and services.
In mental health, everyone has knowledge and a field of expertise. Taking care of the mental health of individuals and groups is organized in a network, taking into account each person’s expertise, each with their own specificities and usefulness. Of the clinical approaches and practices focused on re-establishing promotion and prevention, there are different ways to understand mental health and act on it to foster individual and collective well-being, in the health care system and beyond.
 Crépeau, C. (2021, February). Le sucre a tué plus de gens que la cigarette? Faux. Agence Science-Presse. https://www.scientifique-en-chef.gouv.qc.ca/impact-recherche/le-sucre-a-tue-plus-de-gens-que-la-cigarette-faux/
Benny, M., Huot, A., Jacques, S., Landry-Cuerrier, J. and Marinier, L. (2021). Santé mentale et psychopathologie (3rd ed.). Chenelière.
 Government of Québec. (2022). Action communautaire. https://bit.ly/43HEXqj
 Borkman, T. (1976). Experiential Knowledge. A New Concept for the Analysis of Self-Help Groups. Social Service Review, 50(3), 445-456