Report on the online consultation by the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology 

June 30, 2005

Executive Summary

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: 

1.     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.    

2.    Ideas Submissions: 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 addiction system. 

The online consultation ran from April 11 to June 6, 2005 and was delivered through the Internet at: or 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 for them. 

The 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.  

Holistic Approach:  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.

Final Comments

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.

Top of document