CAMH’s Dr. David Goldboom may be as infamous
for his “flu rant” as he
is renowned for his role on the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC).
David stepped down
as Chair of MHCC earlier this year. We caught up with him to get the latest
news on MHCC, and find out more about his approach as a mental health leader.
Dr. David Goldbloom, Senior Medical Advisor, CAMH, Professor of Psychiatry, University of
In April you stepped down after three
years as Chair of MHCC. Tell us about your journey.
Commission was set up very much as a start-up. In 2007, we had 18 board members
and two employees! We set out to build capacity and to do things unencumbered
by institutional history. I had had the opportunity to serve as a special
advisor to the Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and
Technology in its inquiry into mental health in Canada – and to contribute to the
Senate report, Out of the Shadows at Last,
which had recommended the creation of the MHCC.
Once we were
established and given a mandate to create a national mental health strategy, we
consulted coast to coast to coast, to bring in the voices of people living with
mental illness and their families as well as professionals. We also sought out
the intellectual capital of experts in areas such as youth, first nations and
the workforce, who could advise us on a variety of specific projects. Today,
the Commission has about 70 employees supporting its national mandate.
When you look at the work of the
Commission, what are you most proud of?
Canada’s first ever mental health strategy in 2012, Changing Directions, Changing Lives, which I had the privilege to
present to the World Health Organization in Geneva with our federal Minister of
Health. We’ve worked closely with the provinces to help develop strategy and
programs at the provincial level. We’ve also advanced knowledge exchange for
professionals and campaigned to fight stigma and discrimination. We developed
the world’s first set of standards for psychological health and safety in the
The trick is
to put knowledge and strategies into action, to take the approach that the work
Our Mental Health First Aid program has been rolled out to more
than 130,000 Canadians. It provides evidence-based tactics to help people with
mental illness in a crisis. On the research front, we have delivered one of the
largest-funded health studies in Canadian history, focusing on the interaction
of homelessness and mental illness. The At
Home/Chez Nous project recruited more than 2,000 mentally ill homeless
Canadians to participate in a randomized trial of a housing intervention with
support. Dr. Paula Goering of CAMH played a pivotal role in leading the design
of that study.
Based on the
results of that research, the federal government has committed $600 million to
the homelessness partnering strategy among federal, provincial and territorial
governments. This is an incredibly fast example of the creation and completion
of a research initiative and its translation into policy, funding and action –
unprecedented in my experience.
Will you continue to advise the Mental Health Commission of Canada?
It’s gratifying to see the Commission’s mandate has been renewed
for an additional 10 years. (Former Federal Finance Minister and CAMH
Ambassador) Michael Wilson has been appointed the new chair and will have an
opportunity to advance a new mandate. I have a great relationship with Michael,
who has been a champion for change in mental health. We’ve had the opportunity to
speak about his new role and the MHCC’s future -- he will be a great leader for
The scope of our challenge is staggering. Each year, one in
five Canadians are affected by mental illness; that’s almost
seven million people. 500,000 people are off work every day due to mental
illness. We spend $50 billion each year on direct services and supports for
mental illness, and that is not counting criminal justice, education and social
services costs. 4,000 Canadians die by suicide each year, 90 per cent of those
in the context of living with a mental illness. Finally, our profession faces
chronic underfunding. It’s been rewarding to see the commitment starting at the
federal level through the MHCC.
Besides your work in mental health,
you’ve had a long affiliation with the arts, whether that is theatre, music or
comedy. Some people may know you better for your flu rant, your teamwork with Second
City alumni Andrea Martin to support the mental health arts group Workman Arts,
or your previous role as chair of the Stratford Festival.
Sometimes I just can’t help myself, it’s in my nature. Certainly humour and
the arts contribute to my own mental health. I hope that can help me do my job
And sometimes humour is a more effective way to deliver a message.
What are your
priorities at CAMH for 2015?
It starts with clinical work. Seeing patients and working with them to
improve their mental health is why I went to med school in the first place. I
typically see 10 to 12 new patients in consultation each week. They may be
referred to me by family physicians, psychiatrists, or a range of CAMH
programs. Working at a teaching hospital like CAMH, I supervise two senior
residents from the University of Toronto. It’s a joy to be able to teach the next
I’m also putting the finishing touches on a book that will be published
next February. The title is Mind Matters
– a week in the life of a psychiatrist.
The profession of psychiatry is sometimes cloaked and closeted, and
people develop impressions based on stereotypes in the media. My co-author is
Dr. Pier Bryden of the Hospital for Sick Children. We are hoping this book,
which is targeted to a general audience, will be an antidote to that. We want
to deliver the straight goods on how our profession helps people and what it’s
like to work as and be a psychiatrist.
Certainly I’ll continue to support the great work of the
CAMH Foundation including its Breakthrough Campaign, which supports a range of
hospital priorities. (These include site redevelopment as well as improved
emergency access and care, research projects, patient and family learning, and
student and professional education.)
I’ve had 30 years of clinical practice so far. Problems like depression,
anxiety and psychosis have dogged people for centuries. I feel lucky to be part
of CAMH, where we try to develop better ways to help our patients, and to
address serious mental health challenges faced by millions of Canadians.