The stigma that often surrounds mental health problems and illnesses continues to keep many people from seeking the help they need, when they need it most.

Most people living with a mental illness say that the stigma and discrimination they experience is often worse than the illness itself.

We know that young people feel the effects of stigma more than any other group in Canada.


be-braveMore than 100,000 Canadian students received anti-stigma messages and participated in awareness raising activities around mental health problems or illnesses at their schools, thanks to the cascading effect of the MHCC HEADSTRONG Youth Anti-Stigma Initiative.

This important and unprecedented MHCC initiative engaged students, schools, governments and community partners across the country for one of the biggest coordinated efforts in Canadian history to reduce stigma around mental health problems and illness among youth.

Starting with the National Youth Anti-Stigma Summit in November 2014, these young participants became champions for change working with regional coordinators to organize 28 regional summits which hosted 4,000 students and another 1,000 adults (teachers and community partners).

The majority of these summits were small events that hosted around 150 students at a time, which gave students the opportunity to participate in interactive sessions. In April 2015, a HEADSTRONG summit was part of a broader mental wellness conference called Mental Health Matters – from a whisper to a scream, which brought together students from over 50 different high schools in Newfoundland and Labrador. This is one example of the 28 regional summits which have hosted 4,000 students and another 1,000 adults (teachers, parents and community partners).

The MHCC’s Opening Minds team continues to support existing partner organizations as they plan summits which will engage communities interested in spreading the HEADSTRONG message and support students and teachers who have already attended summits, while at the same time working to expand HEADSTRONG to reach even more students across the country.

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Opening Minds: Health Care Providers

menal-health-assistantOpening Minds is addressing the mental wellness of health care providers through key initiatives that challenge self-stigma, which threatens the quality of patient care and the well-being of health care providers themselves.

This program was designed to reduce stigma among family physicians – a key group of direct health care providers.

Compared to similar programs, Combating Stigma is a top-performer and should be widely replicated. Research has found:

  • An overall 18.7% improvement in score on the Opening Minds Stigma Scale for Health Care Providers from pre- to post-workshop; and,
  • A statistically significant improvement from pre- to post-workshop in attitudes towards people with a mental illness, attitudes towards help-seeking behaviours and desire for social distance.

Nova Scotia Adult Mental Health Practice Support Program Randomized Control Study

The Randomized Control Study of the Nova Scotia Adult Mental Health Practice Support Program examines the effectiveness of this program in reducing the stigma associated with mental illness in health care and augmenting physician confidence and skills. Its goals include:

  • med-boardIncrease capacity to manage mental illness at the primary care level;
  • Promote collaboration among disciplines;
  • Improve patient health; and,
  • Reduce mental illness-related stigma within the health care sector.

The findings indicate that the program:

  • Leads to lower levels of stigma – specifically social distance – among physicians;
  • Dramatically improves physician confidence in treating patients with mental illnesses, especially patients with depression and anxiety;
  • Leads to significantly better patient depression outcomes than treatment as usual; and,
  • Significantly reduces antidepressant use among patients treated by physicians who completed the program.

The Road to Mental Readiness – R2MR

r2rThe Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR) expands on the foundation of a program originally developed by the Department of National Defence to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health problems and illnesses and to increase resiliency among members of the military. The MHCC is coordinating efforts to bring R2MR training to police and other first responder organizations across the country. The policing program is delivered on two levels:

  • One for members of police services; and,
  • One for police leadership.

The goals of the course are to improve short-term performance and long-term mental health outcomes as well as to reduce barriers to care and encourage early access to care.  The course for leadership is designed to provide the tools and resources required to manage and support employees who may be experiencing a mental problems or illnesses.  It also assists supervisors in maintaining their own mental health as well as promoting positive mental health in their employees.

Preliminary evaluation results show that participating in R2MR training reduces the stigma that often surrounds mental health problems and illnesses as well as increases resiliency.  It is likely that improved resiliency, better coping, and less stigma will all contribute to better overall mental health, quicker access to services when needed, and reduced rates of mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Participants say that they find R2MR tools applicable in both their work and home lives.


  • Mental or emotional fatigue is a factor in 28% of cases of absenteeism within police organizations;
  • Work stress, workloads, and work-life issues have a negative impact on the physical and mental health of a substantive portion of Canada’s police personnel;
  • The police workplace culture tends to make it difficult for employees to seek help;
  • Stigma is a major barrier preventing people from seeking help for mental health problems or mental illness; and,
  • The fear of stigma often delays diagnosis and treatment.

Additionally, R2MR received the endorsement of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs in January 2016 and, the MHCC is working with the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs to support the training of 30,000 full-time and volunteer firefighters.

Road to Mental Readiness (R2MR) was recently showcased at the National Conference on the Mental Health of Australian First Responders, in Sydney, Australia. The conference was attended by more than 250 leaders from first responder organizations across the country.

Organized by beyondblue, one of the largest mental health organizations in Australia, the symposium included state police commissioners, fire chiefs and the heads of paramedic organizations.

Within North America, interest in R2MR and the Working Mind (TWM) continues to grow. Representatives from the State of Georgia are coming to audit a train-the-trainer session at the Ontario Police College. In addition, after a recent MHCC presentation to the California Highway Patrol (CHP), the CHP is considering making TWM available to its 11,000 staff members.