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Transforming Canada's Mental Health System

A true catalyst

by Stéphanie Lassonde (06/06/2011)
The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) is taking concerted action to transform the Canadian mental health landscape.

The Commission was created in 2007 following the most extensive consultations on mental health and mental illness ever conducted in Canada, during which thousands of people from coast to coast voiced their desire for a better mental health system.

Canadians told their stories about the impact mental illness is having on children and youth, the workforce, seniors, Aboriginal people, family caregivers and the homeless, as well as in the justice system. A recurring theme that cut across the entire testimony was the stigma and discrimination that people living with mental illness can suffer – a major barrier to seeking help and receiving treatment.

Responding directly to that testimony, the Commission is partnering with a vast network of leading experts, advisors and volunteers to achieve meaningful change to Canada's mental health system by creating, disseminating, and promoting research, new knowledge, and best practices to inform policy-setting and decision-making.

For example, the Commission is combating stigma through Opening Minds, its 10-year anti-stigma initiative to find the most effective ways of changing negative attitudes and behaviours toward the mentally ill. Opening Minds has linked arms with partners across Canada to identify and evaluate existing anti-stigma programs to determine their effectiveness and potential to be rolled out nationally.

The Commission is also tackling the complex issues of homelessness and mental illness through its groundbreaking initiative called At Home. The largest research project of its kind in the world, At Home aims to find the best way of providing housing and services to some of our most vulnerable citizens and, thereby, effect policy change. In Montréal, the Commission's At Home team, which includes over a dozen Québec health and research partners, had by March 2011 recruited over 400 participants and housed over 160 people, providing them with access to a range of health and community supports to put them on the path toward independent living. Last year, At Home's Montréal team welcomed a delegation from France that plans to replicate the At Home research model in Toulouse, Lille and Marseille this year and in Paris next year.

Today, the Mental Health Commission of Canada is a true catalyst. It is bringing people and organizations together to address common mental health issues. It is ensuring that knowledge is reaching key audiences and being adopted across the system. The Commission's work is also informing the formulation of a mental health strategy for Canada, with the ultimate goal of accelerating positive change that will benefit everyone.

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