Supporting the evaluation of care services for people with mental illness

4 October 2017

In any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness. That’s more than six million people across the country.

The implications can be dramatic and wide-reaching, but performance measurement for mental health services has lagged behind other areas of healthcare and there is much we still do not know about how best to prevent and support those living with a mental illness.

In support of the provincial government’s 10-year plan to address mental health and substance use in British Columbia, MSFHR has worked closely with policy-makers and health authorities to develop effective tools to evaluate the services provided for people living with a mental illness.

We are proud to have provided both financial support and our expertise as a research funder to the two programs described below. The learnings from both of these programs will help inform improvements in how we provide mental health care services in BC.

Foundry: Where wellness takes shape

MSFHR is supporting the research and evaluation component of the Foundry to ensure this new care model is truly meeting the needs of young people and families.

Foundry centres are ‘one-stop-shops’ providing an array of support services for young people ages 12-24 with mental health and addiction challenges. The care model is designed to help young people with mild-to-moderate mental health challenges access support earlier, with fewer barriers, and empower them with tools and resources they need before their health problems become severe and negatively impact their families, relationships, education, employment and other aspects of their lives.

With additional support from the BC government, Graham Boeckh Foundation and St. Paul’s Foundation, five Foundry centres are already providing integrated youth mental health services across BC, with 1,200 – 2,500 young people expected to visit each centre per year.

The Canadian mental health indicators project

While there have been improvements in the area of mental health care data collection and reporting within provinces, comparable measures across provinces are often confined to hospitalization data.

To address this, and test the feasibility of creating and reporting on a small number of mental health and addictions service indicators that could be compared across provinces, the Graham Boeckh Foundation initiated a proof-of-concept project to determine whether it was possible to develop standardized performance indicators that were comparable using existing data in multiple provinces.

MSFHR was part of an alliance of researchers, data analysts, and service leads from five provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec) on this project. The resulting report (Toward quality mental health services in Canada – a comparison of performance indicators across five provinces) identifies six comparable performance indicators for mental health and addictions services:

  1. Access to the same family physician for people diagnosed with a mental disorder or addiction.
  2. First treatment contact for a mental disorder or addiction is in an emergency department.
  3. Physician follow-up after hospital discharge for a mental disorder or addiction.
  4. Rates of suicide attempts among people diagnosed with a mental disorder or addiction.
  5. Suicide rates among people diagnosed with a mental disorder or addiction.
  6. Mortality of people diagnosed with a mental disorder or addiction.

As the first project to have reported extensive and comparable data on the performance of mental health services in multiple provinces, this is an important first step towards a comprehensive set of meaningful cross-province measures that will help guide sound policy decisions around mental health services in Canada.

This project was led by Dr. Elliot Goldner, Director of the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health & Addiction (CARMHA) at Simon Fraser University, and after his passing by Dr. Paul Kurdyak, Senior Scientist, Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and the University of Toronto.  The project is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Goldner, a leader and champion for the improvement of mental health services, and ultimately the quality of life of those with mental health challenges and their families.