Frequently Asked Questions
What is the purpose of the Mental Health Strategy for Canada?
The purpose of the Mental Health Strategy for Canada is to help improve mental health and well-being for all people living in Canada and to help create a mental health system that can truly meet the needs of people of all ages living with mental health problems and illnesses and their families. The Mental Health Strategy for Canada marks the first time that Canada has developed a vision and priorities that can enable all Canadians to contribute to improving mental health outcomes.
Mental health problems and illnesses affect us all. They are more widespread than cancer or heart disease. But the unfortunate power of stigma and its legacy of fear prevent the pain and costs of mental health problems and illnesses from receiving a level of attention and support other serious health issues do. Too many Canadians who are living with mental health problems or illnesses do not have access to the full range of services, treatment, and supports that they need to rebuild their lives.
This Strategy encourages all of us to give mental health issues their due and to help redress a legacy of underfunding and neglect. The Strategy sets out a series of recommendations in a blueprint for change that promises to improve quality of life for Canadians in every province and territory.
What kinds of mental health issues are dealt with in the Strategy?
The Mental Health Strategy for Canada is about making sure that Canada is on a course toward real change so that everyone who confronts a mental health problem or illness is able to count on the same support, treatment and services as anyone who is facing a physical health challenge and mental health outcomes for the entire population can be improved.
To achieve this, the Mental Health Strategy for Canada tackles the full spectrum of mental health issues and presents a broad range of recommendations for change such as providing support to communities to take action to foster mental health and well-being and the improving collaboration among all levels of government. These recommendations are grouped under six Strategic Directions. Each Strategic Direction focuses on one critical dimension and together they combine to provide a comprehensive blueprint for change with a balanced mix of priorities.
While there are no miracle solutions and no single template that will work for everyone or for every jurisdiction, the Mental Health Strategy for Canada speaks to the key issues that confront all people living with mental health problems and illnesses. As a policy document, the Mental Health Strategy for Canada does not encompass matters relating to clinical treatment or care for specific mental health problems or illnesses.
How was the Strategy put together?
The Mental Health Strategy for Canada is the culmination of many years of hard work and advocacy by people across the country. It builds on the strong foundation provided by the landmark final report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs Science and Technology, Out of the Shadows At Last.
Work on the Strategy proceeded in two phases, beginning shortly after the Commission was established as an independent body in 2007. The first phase was completed in 2009 with the release of Toward Recovery and Well-Being: A Framework for a Mental Health Strategy for Canada. The Framework painted a vivid picture of the kind of mental health system we need and put forward a vision and broad goals that reflect an emerging consensus within the mental health community on key directions for change.
Building on that framework, the Mental Health Strategy for Canada has used the best available evidence from Canada and abroad to translate this vision into recommendations for action.
Who was involved in developing the Strategy?
The voices of thousands of people across the country are reflected in the Strategy. People with lived experience, families and caregivers shared their stories of the impact that mental health problems and illnesses have had on their lives and spoke about their experiences with the mental health system. Some told the Commission the mental health system had let them down. Others had success stories they wanted to pass on.
Members of the diverse mental health stakeholder community, including government officials, service providers, researchers, and the National Aboriginal Organizations, also participated through regional dialogues, online surveys, roundtables on key topics and focus groups. The input from everyone who took time to participate in the dialogue helped guide the Commission’s work.
The Strategy builds on the many excellent initiatives already underway across the country and reflects the findings of the many initiatives and projects undertaken by the Mental Health Commission since its inception. The Strategy reflects the concerns and aspirations of people from every part of the country. It provides a blueprint that is adaptable to the circumstances of every region and allows people from coast to coast to coast to become involved in bringing about change.
How will the Strategy be implemented?
We all have a role to play in implementing the Strategy and it will be up to people in each region of the country and at every level of government to respond to the Strategy’s recommendations, in keeping with their particular circumstances. Since there is no one body or government that has responsibility for implementing the Strategy, it will take a coordinated effort over time by all levels of government, stakeholders, people with lived experience, families, and others to bring about the changes recommended in the Strategy.
The Mental Health Commission will continue to do its part by acting as a catalyst and helping stakeholders to take stock of what they are already doing, what more they can do, and what opportunities exist for working together to advance the Strategy. At the same time, with so many pressing health and social issues in Canada, a dynamic, broadly-based social movement is essential to keep mental health from drifting back into the shadows and to sustain the momentum for change.
What timeframe has been set for the Strategy’s implementation?
Setting out a plan, no matter how good, is never enough on its own. It will take time to implement the recommendations in the Strategy, and it will take sustained commitment and leadership at many levels.
The impact of the Strategy needs to be measured over time and reviewed carefully after five years to assess the progress that has been made.
The Strategy proposes an initial set of indicators that can be used to do this, and calls for the development and implementation of a long-term plan to strengthen Canada’s capacity to track the overall mental health and well-being of the population.
How much will it cost to implement the Strategy?
It is not possible to calculate the total cost of implementing all the recommendations in the Strategy. There are two basic reasons for this. First, while the recommendations for action in the Strategy are grounded in research that supports their feasibility, most of the recommendations do not specify particular programs to which precise costs can be attached. Second, the recommendations in the Strategy will be applied in many different contexts across the country. In some cases, more resources may already be in place than in others which means that the costs of implementation will vary greatly from one region to another.
Canada currently spends considerably less on mental health than several comparable countries, with only just over seven cents out of every public health care dollar (seven per cent) going to mental health. This is far below the 10 to 11 per cent of public health spending devoted to mental health in countries such as New Zealand and the U.K.
The Strategy calls for Canada to increase the amount spent on mental health to nine per cent of health spending over 10 years — an increase of two percentage points — and that this increase in investment should be guided by the full range of recommendations in the Strategy.
Where will the money come from to help put the Strategy’s recommendations into action?
An important first step will be to examine the way existing resources are utilized to see how they may be used more effectively and more efficiently.
For example, preventing conduct disorders in one child through early intervention has been found to result in lifetime savings of $280,000. Given that 85,000 children in Canada are currently experiencing conduct disorders, there is potential for significant savings. Improved access to peer support, housing and community-based services can improve quality of life and help people living with mental health problems and illness stay out of hospitals and the criminal justice system.
However, these types of savings and reforms will put back only so much into the mental health system. The Strategy acknowledges that achieving the kind of transformation needed for mental health will take money and that Canada will need to increase what it spends on mental health as a share of overall health and social spending.
The Strategy calls for the proportion of health spending that is devoted to mental health to be increased from seven to nine percent over 10 years. Since this increase represents a Canadian average, each jurisdiction will need to examine the budget adjustment required for it to contribute its share towards meeting this goal. Because mental health is not just a health issue, an equivalent increase in mental health’s share of social spending (in areas such as education, housing, and the criminal justice system) is also required.
Canada and the world are facing difficult economic times, which make this type of investment challenging. It will take sustained effort from the public to generate the political will required to make the necessary increases in mental health spending. Support from the private sector and philanthropic organizations will be required as well. But in a world that depends increasingly on brain power, Canada cannot afford not to invest in the future mental health and well-being of its population. This means allocating resources to the priorities identified in this Strategy.