Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Public Health Agency of Canada Offers Encouraging Response

As readers of this blog may be aware, I have trying to raise awareness of an inaccuracy in Canadian mental health statistics.

Many Canadians have probably heard or read that 1 in 5 Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime. This number appears in official government reports and exists on numerous health websites, including the Canadian Mental Health Association and Health Canada. Bell Canada also popularized this figure in their "Let's Talk" campaign.

The problem is that 1 in 5 is inaccurate. I will not reiterate the reasons why this is inaccurate here, but I encourage those unfamiliar with this issue to read previous articles here and here. To give an idea of just how "off" this statistic is, consider that the American rate of lifetime mental illness is approximately 50%(1).

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has been one of the few organizations to take my concerns seriously (I have contacted multiple organizations and even some media).

I was fairly unimpressed with PHAC's original response, as outlined here.

However, I recently received a follow-up email from a representative within the organization, who wrote:

You raise a valid point and concern around the statement that (more than) 1 in 5 or 20% of Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. The Public Health Agency of Canada will be precise on the seven mental illnesses (i.e., major depression, bipolar disorder, panic disorder, agoraphobia, social phobia, alcohol dependence or illicit drug dependence) on which this estimate is based to ensure accurate interpretation of this statistic.

We will also continue to explore options for adding other mental illnesses to our surveillance system. Our website content is currently under review and we will use consistent language in communicating this measure.

I am pleased with this response, and the PHAC agent also invited me to further discuss additional concerns with a psychologist working in their Chronic Disease and Surveillance Monitoring Division.

While I am encouraged at PHAC's response, I have been discouraged by the rather apathetic response of other agencies and individuals. If cancer rates were underestimated by at least half the true prevalence, there would be a public outcry. Unfortunately, mental illness apparently does not warrant such concern or consideration.

True change in mental health initiatives must start with an accurate understanding of the extent of the problem.

It is not the case that 1 in 5 Canadians will have a mental illness in their lifetime. Canadian research actually shows that this number (20%) is actually the number of people who will have a mental illness within a 1 year period(2).

It is embarrassing for Canadian health institutions to present such clearly contradictory statistics to the general public.

(1) Kessler et al. (2005). Lifetime Prevalence and Age-of-Onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 593-602.

(2)A Report on Mental Illness in Canada

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Need to be Liked - Paperback

The Need to be Liked is now available in paperback at Amazon (click here to visit Amazon.com).

For those interested in downloading the e-book version, please visit here to learn how The Need to be Liked can be downloaded on various platforms (ex: iPad, Kindle, etc.)

If you have read my book, I would love to hear your feedback.


Dr. Roger Covin (roger@drcovin.ca)