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Home › Resources › Early Childhood Mental Health: ‘What We Heard’ – Report Summary

Early Childhood Mental Health: ‘What We Heard’ – Report Summary


The Mental Health Commission of Canada’s (MHCC’s) 2019-2021 mandate from Health Canada identified early childhood mental health as a new priority area. While new for the MHCC, many organizations have been working in this area for decades. By reaching out to those involved in the system, the MHCC’s Mental Health Advancement team conducted an initial “listening phase” between April and November 2019 to better understand early childhood mental health in Canada.

This critical phase provided valuable information on the current state of evidence, services, and policies to help us (as a pan-Canadian organization) align our activities with other stakeholders, provide them with support, and respond to the needs, gaps, and opportunities in services and the system. This report highlights what the MHCC heard during this listening phase.


We used three sources of information to better understand the state of infant and early years mental health. The MHCC’s commitment to sex- and gender-based analysis (i.e., considerations of differences in needs, realities, and the priorities of programs, policies, services, and research) was embedded across our search strategies and data collection instruments. The sources included a scoping review, key informant interviews, and a countrywide survey.

Scoping review

The scoping review assessed the last 20 years (1999-2019) of evidence (screened for relevance), which included highly synthesized and comprehensive academic and grey literature from western and developed countries.
Key informant interviews

Twenty key informant interviews were conducted using a semi-structured interview guide. We adopted a snowball sampling strategy* to identify and engage with interviewees focused on infant and early years mental health, which included parents with lived experience and persons in the following sectors: mental health, primary care, public health/public policy, early child development, early childhood education, child care, advocacy organizations, and community coalitions. In addition, we had one regional consultation as part of the Atlantic Summer Institute annual forum.


A countrywide survey was sent to a large electronic mailing list of MHCC contacts with a focus on children’s mental health. The online survey included a mix of closed and open-ended questions, modelled on the key informant interview guide. Participants were also asked about their demographic, professional, and geographic backgrounds. A total of 1,756 stakeholders completed the survey in English, with 49 completed in French.

The key themes that emerged from the three sources of information were then compared, consolidated, and summarized. The results in the following section outline the most prevalent themes from all information sources.

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