The Standing Senate Committee on Social
Affairs, Science and Technology has embarked on a multi-phase study of mental
health, mental illness and addiction in Canada. As a complement to its other
methods of consultation, the Committee chose to hold a formal online
consultation on mental health, mental illness and addiction. The purpose of this
initiative was to provide ordinary citizens with the opportunity to express
their views on the options for transforming the mental health, mental illness
and addiction system currently being considered by the Committee.
The online consultation provided two
primary means of participation:
The Consultation Workbook:
The consultation workbook began by soliciting participants’ views on the current
state of the Canadian mental health, mental illness and addiction system.
Participants were then invited to assess a series of options for improving the
Canadian mental health, mental illness and addiction system, and identify what
they felt should be the priorities for action.
participants were also given the
opportunity to submit their personal recommendations on how to address some of
the challenges currently faced by the Canadian mental health, mental illness and
The online consultation ran from April
11 to June 6, 2005 and was delivered through the Internet at:
www.parl.gc.ca/santementale. This approach made the consultation available
24 hours a day, 7 days a week, providing participants with the opportunity to
present their views in a meaningful way - when and where it was most convenient
Committee especially hoped to hear from those who are, or have been involved
with the mental health, mental illness and addiction system in Canada, as well
as from Canadians who had an interest in the issue. A total of 1255
contributions were received, including 795 workbooks and 460 ideas submissions.
Participants included consumers, their
family members, service providers and a small group of concerned citizens. Close
to half of workbook respondents were service providers (43%), with the other
half primarily made up of consumers (22%) and family members (27%). The
distribution of contributions through the ideas submissions process was the
reverse, with approximately 40% of ideas being submitted by consumers, 35% by
family members and 25% by service providers. However, it should be noted that in
this case, many participants “wore multiple hats”, sharing their views and
experiences from multiple perspectives.
The workbook and ideas submissions
process were two independent processes and participants could choose to
contribute using one or both approaches. While some divergences emerged in the
key findings from both streams, the results of both processes can be captured
under a few key themes.
Availability and Accessibility:
By and large, participants felt that existing mental health and addiction
services were not sufficiently accessible to all Canadians. Moreover,
participants made a clear distinction between “availability” of services and
their “accessibility”. A number of participants commented on the lack of
availability of services for certain key groups (rural communities, vulnerable
groups such as the elderly, the homeless, children and adolescents). A larger
number, however, directed their criticism and suggestions to the barriers that
prevent access to existing services for those who need them: discrimination and
stigmatisation; the complexity of the mental health, mental illness and
addiction system; the lack of funding for key services (e.g. treatment by
psychologists) currently not covered by the mental health system.
Participants advocated for a holistic approach to mental health, both at the
consumer level and the systemic level. The former would address the physical,
mental, spiritual, economic and social needs of the individual in a coherent
manner, while the latter would enable the creation of an integrated and
effective mental health, mental illness and addiction system. Participants also
advocated for proactive programs (for example, the promotion of good mental
health, education programs and early intervention) versus reactive ones that can
only be accessed once an individual reaches a crisis situation.
Discrimination and Stigmatisation:
Not surprisingly, these issues were brought up by many participants as some of
the key challenges faced by persons living with a mental disorder and/or an
addiction. In particular, participants underscored the importance of
recognizing that mental illness should be treated with the same attention as
physical illness. However, it was interesting to note that this issue was much
more heavily emphasized in participants’ ideas and stories than it was in the
consultation workbook. Most troubling were numerous stories of stigmatisation
within the medical community and the mental health profession itself, in
addition to the education system and workplaces.
A Broader Federal Role:
A clear majority of workbook respondents felt that the federal government’s top
priorities should be to ensure adequate funding to the provinces and territories
so that they can effectively deliver the required mental health and addiction
services to their citizens, and to take the lead in developing a national action
plan on mental health. Interestingly, the impression was that money earmarked
for the mental health system did not necessarily have to be increased; simply
directed to the right programs and services (e.g. treatment by psychologists,
peer support programs, etc.). Participants also advocated for a broader approach
to mental health issues, urging the government to address issues of income
support (including broader access to disability benefits), employment support
and affordable housing.
This online consultation provided
Senators with an opportunity to reach Canadians that would not otherwise
participate in committee studies. Senators were able to hear from and
incorporate new voices, in a new way into their research on the mental health
system. The online approach transcended time and distances, allowing citizens to
participate anytime, from anywhere.