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Opening Minds, Healthy Minds – The Ontario Burden of Mental Illness and Addictions

Submitted by Monica Nunes, CAMH Resource Centre

Public Health Ontario and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences have released Opening Eyes, Opening Minds – The Ontario Burden of Mental Illness and Addictions, a report based on a study that measured the impact of mental illness and addictions on life expectancy, quality of life and health care utilization in Ontario. This study reviewed nine mental illnesses and addictions using health and vital statistics data for Ontarians between the ages of 18 and 65. To calculate the burden of mental illness and addictions among Ontarians, researchers calculated health-adjusted life years (HALYs) which is a composite health gap measure that combines years lived with less than full function and years lost to early death. After calculating for HALYs, the report articulates several clear findings:
• The burden of mental illness and addictions in Ontario is greater than that of cancers;
• The conditions considered equate to a loss of more than 600 000 health-adjusted life years;
• The five conditions with the highest impact on life and death include depression, bipolar disorder, alcohol use disorders, social phobia and schizophrenia.op

The report also reveals that gender and age interact with the burden of mental illness and addictions that Ontarians experience. For instance, across all conditions women contributed a greater number of total HALYs than did men. In addition, those aged 18 to 24 carried the greatest burden of the conditions considered in this study. These age-based results echo other recent reports such as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health's (CAMH) 2011 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) drug use and mental health and well-being reports which revealed significant mental health and drug and alcohol concerns among students in Grades 7 and 12. Taken with the OSDUHS data, the findings of the Opening Eyes, Opening Minds report underscore the need for early detection and timely interventions for addressing mental health and substance use concerns among youth.

In addition to reflecting on early intervention to promote youth mental health, Opening Eyes, Opening Minds speaks to mental health promotion and mental illness prevention as strategies to address the burden of mental illness and addictions. Notably, the report articulates a role for public health in mental health.

Historically, public health has been involved in activities that balance the risk and protective factors that relate to mental health. However, as Opening Eyes, Opening Minds reflects, a better understanding of the role of public health in mental health promotion and mental illness prevention is necessary to determine how public health tools and strategies might address mental illness and addictions. As a step in this direction, the report identifies that an evidence review of mental health promotion and mental illness prevention interventions and jurisdictional scans would be helpful to further clarify the potential opportunities for public health in addressing the burden of mental illness and addictions.

The suggestions in this report are timely given current dialogue among public health in Ontario. As a reflection of this discourse, a three-part webinar series focusing on mental health promotion in public health settings is being held by the CAMH Resource Centre in collaboration with Toronto Public Health and HC Link. The second installment in this series will be held on November 6th, showcasing 4 public health units who are actively engaging in mental health promotion and illness prevention work.

Ultimately, Opening Eyes, Opening Minds effectively details the burden of mental illness and addictions in Ontario. Of equal importance, this report also highlights a need to continue evolving mental health in public health, recognizing current successes and future opportunities.

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