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NCCs convene national gathering, explore public health roles for mental health and wellness

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Working in partnership to focus on positive mental health and wellness

Mental health and wellness is a known public health priority. Last year, in response to gaps identified by the public health community, the six National Collaborating Centres for Public Health (NCCs) published a collection of resources on population mental health promotion for children and youth – a major contribution to the current knowledge base. This year, the NCCs built on this work by convening a national gathering to explore public health roles for promoting mental health and wellness.

On February 28, 2018, in Gatineau, Québec, the NCCs, in partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the Canadian Mental Health Association, and the Mental Health Commission of Canada, brought together 70 leaders from public health, mental health and Indigenous health organizations from all provinces and territories. This two-day forum, entitled Population mental health and wellness promotion: Clarifying the roles of public health, was oriented to population health, and underpinned by determinants and enablers of positive mental health and wellness. Positive mental health is a multi-faceted concept, one that is distinct from mental illness and embraces emotional, psychological and social components. Although holistic considerations of health which include positive mental health are recent in Eurocentric worldviews, they have been, and continue to be, central to Indigenous peoples. Thus, the forum intentionally bridged Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledge. Accordingly, NCCs, partners and representatives from the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation, University of Toronto, Ottawa Public Health, Saskatchewan Health Authority, Institut national de santé publique du Québec, and the BC Ministry of Health contributed to the event’s advisory committee.

The NCCs – with the collaboration of the advisory committee – developed a forum charter. This document  articulated a shared understanding of the current context for population mental health and wellness in Canada, including the need to focus on clarifying roles for public health.

“I’m excited by the partnership evolving with public health, facilitated by the NCCs. A public health approach will support promotion of mental wellness throughout all stages of a person’s life and a family’s development. It will help balance the clinical focus on mental illness only after it’s become acute.

- Patrick Smith, National Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Mental Health Association

Speakers and participants identified public health roles and needs

The forum opened with presentations from key speakers: Margaret Barry from the National University of Ireland Galway and Carol Hopkins of the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation. Their presentations were synergistic: Margaret introduced concepts, policy and implementation approaches for population mental health promotion, and Carol presented a First Nations mental wellness framework.

Carol Hopkins, Executive Director of the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation, commented “There was great value and a depth of expertise because the forum brought Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives and knowledge together.”

Day two combined panel presentations and small group working sessions. Presenters drew from expertise and experience from multiple sectors, including Indigenous, charitable and government. This laid the groundwork for participants to delve deeper in small groups.

Throughout the forum, several public health roles for engaging in positive mental health promotion were identified, including:

  1. Lead and champion the paradigm shift away from mental illness and toward societal, community and family wellbeing.
  2. Embed and integrate Indigenous knowledge, frameworks, ways of knowing, types of evidence and processes.
  3. Recognize and integrate a wider workforce, including Indigenous Elders.
  4. Mobilize and share knowledge across sectors, engaging, convening and working in partnership with different stakeholders.
  5. Communicate and advocate for resources to address inequities and engage in mental health promotion.
  6. Measure impact and outcomes through indicators and evaluation processes that are strength-based, culturally relevant and participatory.

Further discussion revealed that in order to have meaningful impact, public health needs:

  • accountability/long- term time frames, including mental health promotion standards;
  • funding structures that are flexible, collaborative, dedicated and comprehensive;
  • a common understanding about the need for mental health promotion across sectors as well as about gaps in current practice;
  • training and capacity building for mental health promotion, including broad skills (e.g. related to cultural competency; health promotion; strength-based, participatory approaches);
  • values of equity, trust, tolerance for ambiguity, and institutional moral courage;
  • sustained capacity for policy implementation;
  • networks, hubs and communities of practice;
  • knowledge translation tools and resource repositories;
  • participatory research processes, including community-led processes;
  • a wider array of evaluation and monitoring paradigms and tools; and
  • a business case to invest in mental health and wellness promotion upstream.

Pascale Mantoura, Scientific Lead for the NCC forum planning group and Research Officer at the NCC for Healthy Public Policy (NCCHPP), reflected on the importance of clarifying public health roles and needs:

“The public health workforce is well positioned to collaborate; build partnerships with other key actors; assess community needs; and support, advocate for, implement and evaluate policies, programs and initiatives that address the social determinants of mental health at many levels throughout the life course. This event helps us clarify roles, build networks, and collaboratively develop the specialized workforce we need to advance positive mental health."

Mark your calendars for upcoming events

Join us at Public Health 2018 for a workshop that will build on the knowledge, passion, commitment and energy that were in abundance at the forum:

Working together on a shared agenda: the NCCs and their partners discuss the roles of public health in population mental health promotion (May 30, 2018, 9:00a.m.-10:30a.m.)

And take note! The call for abstracts is now open for the Canadian Mental Health Association’s third annual Mental Health for All Conference, October 22-24, 2018 in Montreal. The conference organizers plan to have a specific stream on the role of public health in population mental health.

Download resources shared at the forum

Visit our project page on population mental health promotion to download the event charter, presentations from the event and a reading list shared by event partners.

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