Mental Health Indicators for Canada

A preliminary report entitled Informing the Future: Mental Health Indicators for Canada was released today by the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC). You can check it out here. The purpose of the report is to put together a more complete picture of mental health in Canada than we currently have and answer questions such as, how many Canadians experience positive mental health? How many suffer from common mental health conditions? The commission is attempting to answer these questions by looking at various ‘indicators’ that reflect mental health across the lifespan and by providing a rating of how well we are doing as a society on these indicators.

The preliminary report focuses on just a handful of indicators with the full 64 categories explored in the full report due in April of 2015. The report provides ratings of either green (good performance or improvement), yellow (some concerns; mixed or uncertain results), or red (significant concerns) for each indicator. Unfortunately, the results are somewhat grim - let's just say that we have work to do in most of the categories presented in this report. Of the thirteen indicators presented today, four (30%) are rated red, eight (60%) are rated yellow, and just one (10%) is rated green.

I wanted to briefly highlight the one indicator rated as having ‘good performance’ and one rated as having ‘significant concerns.’ The one area that the Commission has determined that we are doing a good job on is sense of belonging among immigrants. The report states that 66.9% of immigrants aged 12 and over in 2012 rated their community belonging as somewhat strong or very strong. This is seen as a good result and particularly so as this percentage has increased steadily since 2003. The report suggests that immigrants that have been in Canada for more than 10 years rate their belonging as slightly higher than those who have been in the country for less than 10 years. Interestingly, the percentage of immigrants reporting very strong belonging is actually higher than non-immigrant populations. But then again, aren’t most citizens of Canada immigrants? In any case, this particular indicator shows improvement over the past 10 to 12 years and good results currently.

One area of particular difficulty with regard to the mental health of Canadians has to do with caring for family members. 16.5% of Canadians 15 years of age or older that provided care to an immediate family member with a long-term health condition, a physical or mental disability, or age-related problems rated their responsibilities as very stressful. This percentage goes up to more than 30% if we also include those that rated their responsibilities as stressful. For anyone caring for a loved one with dementia, depression, or chronic health issues, this will not come as a surprise at all. It is one of the most challenging things that a person can do and yet the concept of ‘caregiver burden’ is rarely talked about. We know that if we aren’t managing well ourselves, we can’t take very good care of others in our lives, but it can be so hard to admit we need help in this area (what do you mean you need a break from caring for mom?). With Canada’s aging population and a rising tide of dementia and age-related disorders on the horizon, caregiver burden and stress has the potential of affecting more of us every year. Now that this has been identified as an area with significant concerns, hopefully this will create awareness and galvanize support and investment for families caring for loved ones.

There are 11 other indicators presented in the preliminary report – check it out here if you have a minute. It is very well laid out, accessible, and interesting. The more people that are aware of these indicators and how we are doing the better, as we will be more effective in our efforts to convince our governments to prioritize the mental health of Canadians. I'd love to hear any thoughts you might have on the preliminary report as well. Are we doing as poorly in so many areas as the report suggests? Are we really doing as well as a society with regard to the sense of belongingness among immigrants?