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Informing the Future: Mental Health Indicators for Canada

In 2012, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) released Changing Directions, Changing Lives: The Mental Health Strategy for Canada. In order to build Canada’s capacity to promote mental health and improve the lives of people living with mental health problems and illnesses, the Strategy identified the need for better data collection because “agreement on a comprehensive set of indicators would allow each jurisdiction to measure its progress in transforming the system and improving outcomes over time.” To help accomplish this goal, the MHCC launched Informing the Future: Mental Health Indicators for Canada in partnership with the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction at Simon Fraser University.

This document aims to create a pan-Canadian set of mental health and mental illness indicators which paints a more complete picture of mental health in Canada. The indicators provide information on the mental health status of children and youth, adults, and seniors throughout their lives, as well as show how the mental health care system responds to mental illness.

This information can then be used to set priorities and inform policy-making about where best to direct efforts, such as identifying gaps in mental health services, assisting stakeholders in identifying priorities and assessing progress, and addressing the recommendations outlined in the Strategy. It represents an important voice in a larger conversation in Canada about effective collection and use of data to best support mental health and recovery.

The indicators in Informing the Future: Mental Health Indicators for Canada were drawn from a wide variety of sources including national surveys and administrative databases. They were selected based on the following criteria:

  • Meaningfulness — relevance to the strategy;
  • Validity — scientifically sound;
  • Feasibility — readily available data;
  • Replicability — data continues to be available over time; and
  • Actionability — amenable to improvement.

Research and consultation with stakeholders focused on key indicators and considerable effort was made to introduce several non-traditional indicators, beyond population health surveys, in order to broaden the scope of measurement and monitoring and provide a more complete picture of mental health and illness. Members of the Mental Health and Addictions Information Collaborative, leaders in First Nations, Inuit, and Métis mental health, experts in school-based mental health promotion, and members of the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership contributed to the stakeholder consultations.

Thirteen indicators were released in January 2015 to introduce the project and now the MHCC presents a more extensive list. Eight additional indicators highlighting the mental health of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis will be released at a later date. Together, the 63 indicators present a snapshot of mental health problems and illnesses in Canada, drawing from diverse data sources and covering a wide range of topics.

Each indicator was given a colour to illustrate its status:

  • Green indicates good performance and/or the indicator is moving in a desirable direction.
  • Yellow indicates no change, some concern, or uncertain results. For example, an increase in the diagnosis rate of a mental health condition could mean the prevalence is increasing or that health professionals are better at detecting it.
  • Red indicates significant concerns and/or the indicator is moving in an undesirable direction.

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