Mental Health Commission update

Since first being included in the federal budget in 2007, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) has been working hard to promote mental health in Canada and raise awareness across the country.

I have written several columns over the past few years about reports and initiatives adopted by the MHCC.

Generally, I feel it is excellent that such a commission exists and is receiving funding from the government. It is certainly in the best interest of Canadians to have a well-funded, organized group advocating for mental health and the mentally ill.

I thought today we would check in on the five main initiatives currently laid out by the MHCC to see how they are progressing.

In a newsletter earlier this year, the MHCC highlights five key projects: a mental health strategy for Canada; the At Home/Chez Soi housing first project; the Opening Minds anti-stigma program; the Knowledge Exchange Centre; and Partners for Mental Health – a social movement. A few of these programs were updated in the latest newsletter from the MHCC and show some progress being made.

In 2009, the MHCC released a framework for their national mental health strategy and since then have been working out the details and strategic directions. To date, they have identified five fairly broad goals for transforming the mental health system and three for enabling this transformation. The stated goal for the remainder of this year is to continue building from this framework and identifying areas for priority. Not many specific details have yet been released so it is difficult to assess how effective this strategy may turn out in the end.

Earlier this year I highlighted the At Home/Chez Soi housing first project underway across the country to deal with homelessness among the mentally ill and addicted. During the course of this project, more than 1,300 homeless Canadians will be housed in five Canadian cities. After a year and a half in operation, there are currently 770 people who now have homes as a result of this program. Now that is some measurable progress.

In addition to simply having housing, the project coordinators are reporting positive signs among participants such as pursuing job opportunities, renewed life stability, relationship building and making use of support systems.

Opening Minds – the MHCC’s anti-stigma program is working in a variety of ways to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health issues. One area being targeted is workplace mental health. The Commission is working with several major corporations and government departments to evaluate anti-stigma programs and help identify effective ways to reduce the stigma encountered by many in the workforce.

One program being evaluated in Ontario seems to be showing good results – with anti-stigma presentations resulting in changes in attitude among healthcare workers in that region. As a result, this Ontario program is now being replicated and will be introduced at seven hospitals and clinics here in BC’s Interior Health Authority.

It is good to see this group following through on its stated goals and some true progress being made – particularly in the areas of mental health and poverty and the reduction of stigma. I look forward to seeing more updates in the coming months and years and hope true change can occur in our country’s approach to mental health care.


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