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Mental health awareness campaign leads to increase in the number of people seeking help, new CAMH study reveals

Toronto, October 20, 2016 - ​In a first of its kind study, The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) has found that a mass media mental health awareness campaign was linked to an increase in visits to psychiatric emergency departments by people seeking help.

The study, published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, looked at the impact of a two-month long “Transforming Lives” mental health awareness campaign launched by the CAMH Foundation in 2010. Specifically, the study looked at visits to hospital psychiatric emergency department (PED) visits over the duration of the campaign and afterwards.

“Our findings showed a sustained increase in PED visits following the campaign,” says lead author Joyce Cheng, Research Methods Specialist for CAMH. “This campaign was great because it included testimonies from people telling real stories,  saying they were suffering and it didn’t have to be this way.  It really helped people to make the decision to get the help they need.”

Joyce Cheng
Joyce Cheng

CAMH’s “Transforming Lives” campaign focused on residents of downtown Toronto and included exposure on radio, websites, newspapers, bus shelters, subways and other public transportation stations throughout the downtown core.

Four major downtown Toronto hospitals were surveyed in the study: CAMH, St. Michael’s Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital and the University Health Network.  The study found an increase in PED visits at all four.  The greatest increase was at CAMH.  Not only did CAMH see more patients, “The campaign also resulted in an increase in the distance patients travelled to CAMH.  To our knowledge, ours is the first study to have demonstrated the effect of a mental health campaign on PED health care utilization.”

The study found the link between the awareness campaign and hospital visits to be so direct, the authors suggest that for future mental health awareness campaigns that psychiatric emergency departments be informed in advance to expect an increase in visitors.

For Cheng, who also works as an analyst at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), the study shows that mental health awareness campaigns do work in convincing people with mental illness who need help to seek it. 

“Two-thirds of people with mental illness don’t seek help because of perceived barriers,” says Cheng.  “To say I need help, and then to get help, is a big step.  The whole point of the CAMH Foundation awareness campaign was to decrease stigma.  There has been a change.  Because of campaigns like this people are more likely to talk about how they are feeling and seek help.”

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada's largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital and a world leading research centre in this field. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental illness and addiction. CAMH is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto, and is a Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization Collaborating Centre. For more information, please visit camh.ca or follow @CAMHnews on Twitter.

Media Contact:
Sean O’Malley
Media Relations
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)
(416) 595-6015
media@camh.ca

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