Canada Takes Huge Step Towards National Mental Health Standards
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Canada Takes Huge Step Towards National Mental Health Standards

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Government of Canada Begins Work with Partners on National Standards for Mental Health and Substance Use Services

The COVID-19 pandemic has had significant adverse impacts on the health and well-being of Canadians and Indigenous Peoples, including with respect to mental health and substance use. Many Canadians have reported increased feelings of increased stress, anxiety, depression and loneliness, and national surveillance data has shown a rise in drug toxicity deaths and other substance-related harms.

This difficult and unprecedented time has highlighted the need to address long-standing challenges in the delivery of mental health and substance use services and supports across the country. The Government of Canada is committed to improving the delivery of mental health and substance use services and supports so that Canadians are able to receive high-quality, culturally appropriate care regardless of where they live.

In budget 2021, the Government of Canada provided $45 million to help develop national standards, in collaboration with provinces and territories, health organizations and key stakeholders, in order to address needs of Canadians related to mental health and substance use. Today, the Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health, announced that the Government of Canada is taking the first step in developing these national standards by working with the Standards Council of Canada (SCC), as well as stakeholders and partners. National standards will help formalize what Canadians can expect in terms of the timeliness and quality of services across the country.

Tangible and significant progress has been made over the last decade in developing and advancing the use of best practices in mental health and substance use services and supports, supported by significant federal, provincial and territorial investments. However, many gaps remain to be addressed. Access barriers, inconsistent quality of services, and limited front-line workforce capacity are among the factors that make it more difficult for people in Canada to get the mental health and substance use services that they need. The important work of SCC will provide a foundation to close this gap – a national approach that will provide a common framework for service delivery.

SCC will engage a diverse range of interested parties to inform this work, including provinces and territories, Indigenous partners, health organizations and people with lived and living experiences. To facilitate engagement, SCC will establish a National Standardization Collaborative that will provide opportunities for stakeholders to contribute. Public consultations will also be launched later this year.

“Canadians and Indigenous Peoples deserve mental health and substance use services that meet their unique needs, and that are accessible, patient-centred, and culturally relevant – while also addressing concerns such as effectiveness and equity. I am grateful to the Standards Council of Canada for leading this initiative, and look forward to creating opportunities for provinces and territories, Indigenous organizations, and other key partners to collaborate on the development of new national standards for mental health and substance use.” The Honourable Carolyn Bennett Canada’s Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health

“As our government recognizes the importance of delivering vital mental health and substance use supports for Canadians who need it most, the Standards Council of Canada (SCC) is playing an important role in identifying gaps and helping to provide a framework for service delivery that we can all rely on. Through the National Standardization Collaborative, the SCC will work with stakeholders to better understand what Canadians need, and build a national framework that helps provide support across the country.” The Honourable François-Philippe Champagne Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry of Canada

“Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre is in the heart of Don Valley West, and for many, is its beating heart. Sunnybrook is renowned for its world-class medical and scientific research including in all aspects of brain health including mental health. The establishment of national standards for mental health and substance use is critical for ensuring safe, effective, and compassionate responses to those in need. Today’s announcement by Minister Bennett will resonate with the residents of Don Valley West and indeed with all Canadians.” The Honourable Robert Oliphant Member of Parliament for Don Valley West

“SCC is honoured to play a role in supporting the Government of Canada’s commitment to expand the delivery of high-quality and accessible mental health and substance use services. Canada was a leader when it launched the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace, the first of its kind in the world. As such, the Canadian Standardization system will provide a comprehensive framework to support Canadians mental health and substance use services that will address stigma while helping to improve related services.” Chantal Guay Chief Executive Officer of the Standards Council of Canada

“CIHR is pleased to support research that will contribute to the development of pan-Canadian standards for mental health and substance use services. New research is urgently needed to understand what standards already exist, how they are interpreted by providers and organizations, and which methods work best for promoting their uptake across diverse populations and settings. This collaborative effort will ultimately ensure all Canadians have access to equitable, timely, and evidence-based care, when and where they need it.” Dr. Samuel Weiss Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction

Health Canada signed an agreement with SCC to coordinate the development of national standards for mental health and substance use services. SCC is a federal crown corporation that helps make life safer and healthier for Canadians through the power of standardization.

Health Canada is already supporting standards development in priority areas, such as working with the Health Standards Organization and Frayme to develop standards related to integrated youth services. Establishing national standards will also inform current and future investments by the Government in mental health and substance use services.

SCC will lead the development of national service standards across six key priority areas: Integrated Youth Services; Primary Care Integration; Digital Mental Health and Substance Use Apps; Substance Use Treatment Centers; Substance Use Workforce; and Integrated Services for Complex Health Needs.

With support from Health Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, SCC will focus on priority areas that align with the Common Statement of Principles on Shared Health Priorities (CSOP) developed by federal, provincial and territorial governments in 2017. The standards will help address a range of mental health and substance use service needs and are a tool for promoting consistency of service delivery across Canada.

In response to increased demand for services during the pandemic, the Government of Canada launched the Wellness Together Canada (WTC) portal and PocketWell companion app, which offer free and confidential online mental health and substance use supports to all Canadians, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is also investing $600,000 in research to evaluate existing service standards for the virtual delivery of mental health and substance use services. This research will inform our understanding of the current landscape within mental health and substance use health services and is an important step in developing national standards.

Backgrounder – CIHR National Standards for Mental Health Services Initiative

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