Mental Health

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as "… a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community."
About 20% of Canadians will experience a diagnosable mental health problem or illness each year. The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), ably Chaired by former Senator Michael Kirby is developing a national mental health strategy. The first part was issued in November 2009, and the second will be completed by mid-2012.
These are predominantly illnesses that affect young Canadians and their families. On its website, the Commission notes:
  • One in three Canadians will experience a mental health problem at some point in their life.
  • Mental illnesses are largely a disorder of childhood and youth: Half of all mental disorders begin by age 14 and 75% begin by age 24.
  • One in 4 of those aged 15-24 will suffer a mental health problem. Depression is one of the most common medical illnesses in this age group.
  • Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among people aged 15 to 24 in Canada, second only to automobile accidents. Over 90% of suicide victims have a psychiatric illness.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health notes approximately 4,000 Canadians die by suicide each year.

Risk Factors and Symptoms

Multiple social, psychological, and biological factors determine the level of mental health at any point of time.
  • Socially, poor mental health is associated with rapid social change, stressful work conditions, gender discrimination, social exclusion, unhealthy lifestyle, threats of violence, etc.
  • Specific psychological and personality factors can make people vulnerable to mental disorders.
  • Biological causes associated with mental disorders include genetic factors and chemical imbalances in the brain.
The WHO lists the following five symptom clusters associated with mental illness that sufferers or those close to them notice (
  • Physical, such as aches and sleep disturbance.
  • Emotional, such as feeling sad, scared, or anxious.
  • Cognitive, such as difficulty in thinking clearly, abnormal beliefs, and memory disturbance.
  • Behavioural, such as behaving aggressively, inability to perform routine daily tasks, and excessive use of substances like alcohol and illicit drugs.
  • Perceptual, such as seeing or hearing things that others cannot.

Cost Estimates

The most recent and perhaps most representative figures were published in 2008 using 2003 Statistics Canada data. Almost $23 billion was spent on medical services ($5 billion), and work loss for both short term ($9.3 billion) and long term ($8.5 billion) mental illnesses. Put another way, mental illnesses drain Canada’s wealth the same as destroying 155 homes, each valued at $400,000, every day of the year.

Guarding Minds at Work

This Canadian website was developed by three psychologists and Dr. Martin Shain (see Doctor on Call), all associated with the Simon Fraser University Faculty of Health Sciences, with funding from Great-West Life. The goal was to ensure mental health received the same attention and resources as physical health and safety. Twelve psychological risk factors focus on supportive work environments which include elements of culture, leadership, civil behaviour, job fit, recognition and rewards, reasonable workload, career development, and work-life balance.
Website content included a search of the academic literature in workplace health and law, consultation with various experts and focus groups, and extensive surveying. The key benefit of psychologically healthy workplaces is described as greater productivity through significantly lower rates of absence and disability.
The last word belongs to a stakeholder submission to the Mental Health Commission of Canada:
"We inhabit our bodies but we live in our minds. The great paradox is that the very space within which we experience our lives, hold our memories, make our decisions and share the joys of being alive is at the same time the space that we most stigmatize and neglect in health care." – Toward Recovery & Well-Being, p.14.


Categories: Disease Management