Mental health requires more than health care

Posted on October 23, 2013 in Health Debates – opinion/column
October 22, 2013.   Paula Reaume-Zimmer, Special to QMI Agency

After just returning from the Canadian Mental Health Association’s national conference, we are more motivated than ever to engage in partnerships within our community and region.

A major theme of the national conference was focused on the determinants of health. The determinants of health refer to parts of our social community that, together create a healthy community, for example our employment rate, education, poverty, and the basic needs of food and shelter.

Healthy communities throughout the world are ones that have considered the impact of the determinants of health and have focused strategies on addressing them, which in turn results in a healthier community.

So, when we hear news about our community housing programs, our Best Start programs for children, and when we raise concern about our community employment rate, all of these factors contribute to not only a healthy economy, but also a healthy community.

In psychology, students are introduced to a theory called Maslow’s hierarchy of need. Maslow’s theory is based on the principle that basic needs have to be met before an individual can grow to develop more complex thinking about themselves and the world around them.

Addressing the determinants of health was a concept that Maslow’s theory addressed back in 1943, and continues to be a predicting factor of what motivates human behaviour. This is an important consideration that health-care practitioners need to think about when addressing treatment adherence for our clients.

This is especially true when we consider some of the complex patient needs that we are caring for today. Sometimes, we hear of the lectures that clients receive when they visit their health-care providers. They are scolded for not following their diet, for not getting the exercise they ought to, or for not attending therapy appointments. Although all issues are valid, it’s especially important to consider what might be stopping our clients from following their treatment plan, which would lead them to better health.

Often, clients are more consumed with making ends meet, putting food in their families’ mouths, ensuring they can pay the rent or mortgage or fretting over their job security. These worries begin to consume and exhaust an individual, which can lead to many forms of mental and physical illness and become much more of a priority to address versus making it to their next rehab group.

A program that is receiving a lot of attention nationally and around the globe is called Housing First. Housing First is a program aimed to address the social determinant of housing and has demonstrated in several research projects that individuals with stable housing, without having to commit to any mental health intervention had better health outcomes and eventually began to trust health-care providers enough to engage in their addressing their health-care needs.

Housing First was launched in 2009, the research project officially ended in March 2013, this research seeks to determine whether the housing first approach works, and, if so, for whom and at what cost. In an early findings report, published in late 2012, it showed that housing is the first step and once people have secure, quality housing it is often an incentive for people to achieve other goals. The housing program is a core service of the Canadian Mental Health Association and has also demonstrated success in fostering positive mental and physical health outcomes. This program is aimed to address housing needs for individuals with a mental illness, who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. For more information about the CMHA LK housing program contact us at 519 436-6100.

To read more about Housing First, visit

Paula Reaume-Zimmer is Integrated Director of Operations, Mental Health and Addictions Programs, Chatham-Kent Health Alliance & Canadian Mental Health Association-Lambton-Kent

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2 Responses to “Mental health requires more than health care”

  1. This article brings up some very thought provoking ideas. Many people think that the key to maintaining good overall health and mental health is to eat healthy, exercise and to have access to good health care. However there are many other factors in our lives that can put a great deal of stress on the body. You could exercise everyday, eat a well balanced diet but if you do not have a place to lay your head at night or a job that puts food on the table for your family, it is going to effect your mental health in significant ways.

    Programs such as ‘Housing First’ are a step in the right direction to helping people who are struggling with housing to find some peace and comfort. They are able to rest assured knowing that they have a place to call home. I believe our Ontario government needs to allocate more resources for these kinds programs. Policies that are put in to place to help people attain housing, jobs, and education are going to be beneficial to the overall mental health of our people. The health care system can only go so far to maintaining our provinces overall health. The Liberal government needs to look closely at what factors are influencing poor mental health and create preventative programs and services to fix some of the major social issues that that are causing a great deal of stress in our society and health care systems.

  2. The Housing First program sounds like a great program to end homelessness and to give people a fighting chance. I believe it is also about awareness and education that can also help these individuals to have a healthier lifestyle. Having a place called home can currently give a person a sense of comfort, but they also need guidance to continue on that healthy lifestyle. What kind of support programs are in place after they are situated in the home?

    What people are not aware of and end up finding out when it is too late is that health care providers can drop a patient under certain circumstance such as missed appointments. It can be very difficult for that individual to find another health care provider. I believe what health care providers forget to remember is that we are all unique. These individuals are given basic information about their diagnosis, different techniques to help their current situations and how to goal set, but each person process and interprets information differently. I think their treatment plan should be more guided and individual based in order for that person to be engaged and to succeed. Also, there are many mental health programs to be utilized but so many individuals don’t even know they exist.


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