Thank you and have a good afternoon.
Mr. Chair and committee members, I'm delighted to be here today.
My name is Louise Bradley. I'm the president and CEO of the Mental Health Commission of Canada. I'd like to acknowledge my colleague, Jennifer Vornbrock, the vice-president of our knowledge and innovation team.
Let me begin by providing you with a brief background on the commission and its mandate. The commission was created in 2007, prompted by the work of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology and its study “Out of the Shadows at Last”, which called for a national commission on mental health.
The commission has a mandate to improve the mental health system and change the attitudes and behaviours of Canadians around mental illness. The commission is a coordinating agent, aligning and promoting the interests of governments, organizations, and persons with mental illness and their families. Our work brings together leaders and experts in mental health and facilitates widespread uptake on ideas, policies, and programs.
I'm pleased to report that in the 2015 federal budget, the Government of Canada indicated its intention to renew the commission's mandate for 10 more years beginning in 2017. The commission is thrilled to have the opportunity to continue its work, led by our new board chair, the Honourable Michael Wilson. Mr. Wilson has used his considerable talent and influence to champion mental health as a private citizen. Given his accomplishments to date, we can't wait to see what he's able to achieve with the full weight of the commission and our many partners behind him.
The commission's work continues to be guided by the mental health strategy for Canada, which was released in 2012. The strategy lays out actions to improve mental health care and its associated systems through six strategic directions. Since the release of the strategy, the commission has worked hard to ensure the strategy's uptake, sharing its recommendations with stakeholders across the country and around the world. I've heard from provincial and territorial governments that the strategy has become a foundational document and is used by them to develop their own mental health plans and priorities.
The reach of the strategy has been incredible, but the commission knows there are still barriers to its implementation across Canada. To assist in the implementation process, the commission initiated its own review of the strategy. After speaking with stakeholders and government officials, the commission has determined that the following actions would help drive the strategy forward: the coordination of mental health services and resources, including the integration of mental health, primary care, housing supports, and substance use services; the creation of an action plan, based on common priorities from the strategy, that demonstrates the next steps for those trying to implement it; and the improvement of mental health data, which includes better monitoring of current trends and the identification of data gaps. The commission looks forward to working with stakeholders and government to carry out these actions over the next decade.
The commission has also taken every opportunity to capitalize on the strategy as a guide for the expansion of our work. The issue of suicide prevention is of paramount importance, and we have been working on this issue for years utilizing our anti-stigma initiative called Opening Minds, workplace mental health programs, and knowledge exchange to provide tools and promote best practices.
We know that there is widespread support for this issue among parliamentarians, demonstrated by the recently passed Bill C-300, an Act respecting a Federal Framework for Suicide Prevention, which had support from all parties. Many of you also know about the #308conversations initiative launched last year by the commission and championed by member of Parliament Harold Albrecht. The campaign called upon all 308 federal members of Parliament to host a meeting in their respective communities with a focus on suicide prevention. The goal was to get people talking and to gather information about what interventions are available in communities.
As the second phase of this initiative building on the work of our anti-stigma initiative Opening Minds, the commission is developing a community-based model for suicide prevention. This model aims to adapt and implement an existing and effective suicide prevention program in the Canadian context. The model, developed by Dr. Ulrich Hegerl, is a multi-level, community-based suicide prevention initiative that has shown to be effective in reducing suicide by more than 24% over two years in a test community. The commission is currently working with stakeholders to determine the implementation of this initiative across Canada.
The initiative will build on another key commission program, At Home/Chez Soi, a participatory research project. At Home/Chez Soi demonstrated positive, cost-effective results for the housing first approach to homelessness, which provides persons who are homeless and have chronic mental health issues with immediate access to subsidized housing. Its participants were some of the most vulnerable Canadians who are highly stigmatized and who reported feeling isolated and being at high risk for suicide. At Home/Chez Soi demonstrated that people with chronic mental illness who receive no-barrier housing are more likely to stay housed and to report an improved quality of life. It also showed that for every $10 invested in housing first services for high-needs participants, the community saved almost $22 in avoided costs.
Because of its success, the Government of Canada decided to invest $600 million in the housing first approach through its homelessness partnering strategy. Through its innovative research, the commission was able to offer tangible and cost-effective approaches to improving the lives of Canadians who are homeless and have a chronic mental illness.
As part of our leadership on mental health systems transformation, the commission has also placed an emphasis on knowledge exchange and the sharing of best practices. At the heart of this work is the commission's Knowledge Exchange Centre, KEC, which provides numerous information-sharing hubs both online and through in-person gatherings. The KEC shares information about the commission's initiatives and additional best practices, ensuring that the information gets to the right people and that they know how to use it.
The KEC is also dedicated to improving the data and resources related to mental health. Next month they will continue with their launch of a set of national indicators on mental health that will provide crucial data on self-harm rates, the prevalence of specific mental illnesses, suicide rates, and rates of access to services. This data also identifies mental health indicators for subpopulations, such as LGBTQ youth and new Canadians. This information allows us to gauge areas in which the needs of Canadians are being met and in which there's room for improvement.
As you can see, the commission is working hard, as hard as it ever has, and we are ready to start making long-term plans for the next phase of our work. The commission is currently seeking advice from the Government of Canada, Health Canada, and other key partners about our new mandate. We've also been consulting with stakeholders and provincial and territorial leaders across the country to discuss shared priorities.
These discussions will form the basis of the mental health action plan for Canada, which provides goals and priorities for the implementation of the strategy. Just as the strategy guided the last decade of work, the mental health action plan for Canada will set the tone for the next one. By following through on the action plan, the commission can address urgent mental health issues, including suicide prevention, access, mental health supports for first responders, seniors, diverse populations, children, and youth.
In closing, I commend the members of this committee for identifying future actions at the federal level. There is still a great deal of work to be done. As with the commission's renewed efforts, it is the perfect time to redouble our efforts. This new chapter marks a time of pivotal change in Canada's mental health landscape, with more energy for system transformation than ever before.
I look forward to working with all of you and all Canadians as we continue our work towards our common goal of improving the mental health of Canadians.