A busy year ahead for the MHCC

Designing a new work plan for an organization that juggles as many balls as the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) is no easy feat. Just ask Ed Mantler, the MHCC’s vice-president of programs and priorities.

“The MHCC has its finger on the pulse of stakeholder priorities, and we’re very fortunate to have them as key advisors for our ongoing projects,” he explained. Mantler led the development of Advancing the Mental Health Strategy for Canada: A Framework for Action, the bedrock of the MHCC’s next phase of work.

“Everyone at the MHCC stepped up to share their vision, which made for some difficult choices,” he said. That required Mantler to consult with the executive leadership team, who also played a hands-on role in the work plan’s development. “We spent a lot of time getting the right balance between incubating early initiatives, soldiering on with important current work, and divesting programs mature enough to fly from the proverbial nest.”

“That balancing act paid off,” added Louise Bradley, MHCC president and CEO. “Not only did our funder, Health Canada, sign-off with very few changes, our provincial and territorial advisory group genuinely appreciated how well we managed to align our priorities with theirs.”

Regarding the changes in the mental health landscape going on across the country, Mantler noted how the MHCC is working hard to keep pace and be a leader in this area, that is, acting as a bell-wether for provinces and territories. “We’re undertaking important work at the intersection of mental health and problematic substance use. That means partnering more closely with the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. We’re also making real inroads with our Roots of Hope suicide prevention program, which is flourishing across the country (largely due to provincial support), and we’re centring our anti-stigma work on opioid use — a strategy that is highly relevant given the overdose crisis in our country.”

Bradley conceded that a two-year work plan required the MHCC to exercise discipline in paring down priorities. “The fact is, you can’t be everything to everyone. There’s a real danger of spreading an organization too thin and watering down the value of the work.”

Mantler emphasized that many of the MHCC’s signature efforts aren’t going anywhere. “Our training, for example, in programs like Mental Health First Aid, The Working Mind, and its spinoff for post-secondary students, The Inquiring Mind, is growing exponentially. We’re also infusing the valuable knowledge we gained while creating the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace into the development of a post-secondary psychological health and safety standard.”

Michel Rodrigue, the MHCC’s vice-president of public affairs and organizational performance, put it like this: “We aren’t throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There’s so much knowledge across the organization, and we’re using that to build on areas that may have previously been overlooked. For example, we’re dipping our toe into the correlation between mental health and chronic disease, an area where we stand to learn so much. The same is also true of examining why people who are living with mental illness are overrepresented in the justice system.”

Bradley concurred. “We’ve got a responsibility to focus our efforts on big-picture challenges, like suicide prevention and mental health promotion, but we also have an opportunity to leverage our national platform to draw eyes to issues that may not make it into the mainstream conversation.”

“What we are tying to do,” concluded Rodrigue, who’s responsible for measuring the impact of the organization’s efforts, “is bring our expertise to bear in areas where our stakeholders and all levels of government are telling us there is a need. By zeroing in on fewer areas, we’ll be able to make a greater discernable impact.”