Promoting mental health and preventing mental illness

Strategic Direction #1 – Summary Version

By promoting mental health and preventing mental illness, we can increase the number of people who enjoy good mental health and reduce, to the greatest extent possible, the number of people whose mental health is poor, who experience the symptoms of mental health problems or illnesses, or who die by suicide.

Positive mental health — feeling well, functioning well, and being resilient in the face of life’s challenges — improves quality of life and is integral to overall health and well-being, even when there are on-going limitations caused by mental health problems and illnesses.[1] Improving the state of mental well-being for the whole population brings social and economic benefits to society.[2]

By enhancing factors that are known to help protect people (e.g., having a sense of belonging, enjoying good relationships and good physical health) and diminishing those factors that put them at risk (e.g., childhood trauma, social isolation), we can reduce the onset of some mental health problems and illnesses, reduce symptoms and disability, and support people in their journey of recovery.[3]  Structural and social factors that reduce adversity and promote a sense of security, such as safe housing and stable income, are also of great importance.

There is growing evidence about what kinds of programs can be effective.  The best results for mental health promotion, mental illness prevention, and suicide prevention have been achieved by initiatives that target specific groups (defined by age or other criteria) and settings (school, workplace, home).  They address a combination of known risk and protective factors, set clear goals, support communities to take action, and are sustained over a long period of time.[4][5]

Addressing mental health and mental illness as everyday issues will contribute to achieving broader goals such as increasing employability, improving physical health across the lifespan, helping people to do better in school, and reducing crime.[6][7]  To accomplish this, work is needed both inside and outside health care and mental health settings.


  • Increase awareness about how to promote mental health, prevent mental illness and suicide wherever possible, and reduce stigma.
  • Increase the capacity of families, caregivers, schools, post-secondary institutions and community organizations to promote the mental health of infants, children, and youth, prevent mental illness and suicide wherever possible, and intervene early when problems first emerge.
  • Create mentally healthy workplaces.
  • Increase the capacity of older adults, families, care settings, and communities to promote mental health later in life, prevent mental illness and suicide wherever possible, and intervene early when problems first emerge.

For a full version of this Strategic Direction, including the recommendations for action, download the Strategy


[1] Provencher, H.L., & Keyes, C.L.M. (2011). Complete mental health recovery: Bridging mental illness and positive mental health. Journal of Public Mental Health, 10 (1), 57–69.

[2] Kirkwood, T., Bond, J., May, C., McKeith, I., & Teh, M.  (2008). Foresight mental capital and wellbeing project.  Mental capital through life: Future challenges. London, U.K.: The Government Office for Science.  Retrieved from

[3] World Health Organization. (2004). Prevention of mental disorders: Effective interventions, and policy options. Summary report. Retrieved from

[4] Ibid.

[5] World Health Organization. (2005). Promoting mental health: Concepts, emerging evidence, practice. Retrieved from

[6] Friedli, L.I., & Parsonage, M.  (2009). Promoting mental health and preventing mental illness: The economic case for investment in Wales. Cardiff, Wales: All Wales Mental Health Promotion Network. Retrieved from

[7] Seymour, L., & Gale, E. (2004). Literature and policy review for the joint inquiry into mental health and well-being in later life. London U.K.: mentality. Retrieved from