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The Mental Health Strategy for Canada: A Youth Perspective

This report was published in 2015. The data may be out of date.

In March 2013, the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Youth Council (YC) came up with the idea to rewrite or “translate,” from a youth perspective, Changing Directions, Changing Lives: The Mental Health Strategy for Canada. Although every effort was made during the writing of the Strategy to reach as many audiences as possible, the YC decided to rewrite it to resonate better among their friends and peers — or anyone else interested in mental health discussions in Canada. The main aim of their project was to develop a supplemental document that highlights the experiences and vision of young people working toward system change, ultimately making the original Strategy a more accessible document to all.

Over the course of two years, the YC met in person four times to work through the Strategy, page by page. Using a critical youth lens, they rewrote all six strategic directions, drawing on personal experiences to make sense of a large policy document and turn it into something original. To our knowledge, never before has a group of Canadian youth designed a project of this scope or contributed to the field of knowledge exchange by translating a policy document written largely for, and by, adults. While the Strategy team consulted with hundreds of youth and their families during the initial writing process, the policy focus of the document meant that many people could find it challenging to access. The YC hopes that the new version helps to overcome this challenge.

The original Strategy is geared toward people of all ages and outlines a few specific recommendations for action on child and youth mental health. For example, the Strategy recommends that we:

  • Increase comprehensive school health and post-secondary mental health initiatives that promote mental health for all students and include targeted prevention efforts for those at risk (from Strategic Direction 1).
  • Remove barriers to full participation of people living with mental health problems or illnesses in workplaces, schools (including post-secondary institutions), and other settings (from Strategic Direction 2).
  • Remove financial barriers for children and youth and their families to access psychotherapies and clinical counselling (from Strategic Direction 3).
  • Remove barriers to successful transitions between child, youth, adult, and senior mental health services (from Strategic Direction

This document builds on these recommendations and others in order to advance dialogue among mental health advocates, activists, students, community mental health workers, policy makers, or anyone interested in transforming Canada’s mental health system. We hope that you find this document useful for becoming even more engaged in policy discussions that directly impact people of all ages.

Despite being written by youth who highlight youth-specific examples, the report you are about to read is not a full mental health strategy for youth, nor is it intended to take the place of the original Strategy. If you are interested in more detailed policy recommendations on child and youth mental health, take a look at these other reports from the MHCC: Evergreen: A Child and Youth Mental Health Framework for Canada, School-Based Mental Health in Canada: A Final Report, Taking the Next Step Forward, and, of course, The Mental Health Strategy for Canada.

The YC also understands and appreciates the range of experiences people have with mental illness and do not intend to use the term in any uniform way. For the purposes of this document, the YC chose “mental health issues” as a way of encompassing the vast range of diagnoses and lived experiences with mental health problems and illnesses. People living with schizophrenia, for example, may be at different stages of recovery than someone living with depression or may require much more complex services than others. Some people may have so few resources or support that conversations about recovery seem impossible. Either way, the YC acknowledges the diversity of experiences and understands, through their own lived experience, the complexity of mental illness and the range of services and supports our system needs in order to advance recovery for everyone.

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In Canada, an estimated 1.6 million children and youth have a diagnosed mental health challenge. The COVID-19 pandemic has had serious global economic and social impacts, and it continues to...