Positive mental health is a priority indicator selected by Dr. Arlene King, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, in her annual report released on February 7 entitled, “Maintaining the Gains, Moving the Yardstick.” The report uses indicators to highlight twelve priority population health areas. The indicators will be used for understanding system issues, monitoring performance and accountability. Dr. King emphasizes the need for citizen engagement and coordinated government-wide, multi-sectoral approaches with vertical and horizontal alignment of activities.
“Self-reported positive mental health” is included as one of the priority indicators. Dr. King acknowledges increasing awareness of mental health with examples such as, the “Opening Eyes, Opening Minds” report by Public Health Ontario and the Institute of Clinical Evaluative Sciences as well as Ontario’s Comprehensive Mental Health and Addictions Strategy.
The baseline Ontario data, taken from Statistic Canada’s “Canadian Community Health Survey 2003 -2009/2010”, shows that 74 per cent of Ontarians reported positive mental health, which is similar to the national average. Disparities are noted for seniors, young adults with lower levels of education, neighbourhoods with lower socio-economic status and First Nations, Inuit and Métis.
Opportunities for improvement in mental health include:
- More efforts to reduce stigma and raise the profile of mental health and addictions as a critical health issue;
- More discussion of what role the public health sector could play in promoting and protecting mental health, managing stress, recognizing risk factors for mental health disorders and building resilience in communities; and
- Addressing equity issues related to mental health disparities.
Dr. King is currently leading work to develop a strategic plan for the public sector in Ontario. A special report will be released in spring 2013. The priority areas for action will be consistent with this report, including those well-established priorities in public health and the new and emerging issues. She noted that the impact of the public health sector will be increased through stronger collaborations with the health care and non-health sectors.