Connecting the Dots: No Mental Health without Public Mental Health

A research report released in Ontario last summer entitled Connecting the Dots indicated that local public health units are doing a substantial amount of mental health promotion for children and youth without having a specific mandate to do so. In Ontario, illness prevention and health promotion are at the heart of public health, yet the role of public health in the mental health of Ontarians has not been well defined. For instance, the Ontario Public Health Standards, which guides the work of public health units, lacks an explicit mandate to address mental health.

In response, last December the CAMH Health Promotion Resource Centre (HPRC) and Public Health Ontario (PHO) held the Connecting the Dots Forum to study potential contributions from the public health sector to child and youth mental health promotion. The Forum was guided by an intersectoral planning committee representing several Ontario government ministries. Stakeholders from public health, healthcare and provincial mental health organizations participated.

The day began with a keynote address by Dr. Rob Santos from the Manitoba government’s Healthy Child Committee of Cabinet. Dr. Santos presentation highlighted the importance of upstream approaches to child and youth mental health, and of investment in early childhood development. Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Arlene King, provided a response to Dr. Santos’ presentation, highlighting the importance of healthy human development in the Ontario Public Health Sector Strategic Plan.

Next, a panel with representatives from the Ministries of Health and Long-Term Care, Education, and Children and Youth Services discussed how their respective ministries are addressing issues concerning child and youth mental health. Panellists also reflected on how public health might help resolve systemic gaps in promoting child and youth mental health.

Later, in group discussions, participants explored opportunities for collaboration among partners in the public health system. The conversations were lively but left new questions to consider:

  • Should the Ontario Public Health Standards direct Ontario public health units in addressing mental health issues?
  • How can Ontario public health units collaborate with other stakeholders in the mental health and addictions network to promote child and youth mental health?
  • What is the best evidence for promoting child and youth mental health in public health settings?

These questions refer to the situation in Ontario, and the discussions surrounding these issues will certainly help the province improve the promotion of mental health for children and youth. For those of you outside of Ontario, has your community explored similar questions? Also, what could Ontario learn from other provinces with respect to mental health promotion in public health?


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