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Our History

CMHA is a nation-wide organization that promotes the mental health of all and supports the resilience and recovery of people experiencing mental illness. CMHA accomplishes this mission through service, education, advocacy and research.

CMHA Toronto Branch was formed in 1953. We provide:

  • Community support services to men and women with serious mental illnesses

  • Education and mental health promotion services for all members of the community

  • Advocacy for a better mental health system.

CMHA Toronto Branch is one of a network of over 135 branches that offer mental health services in communities across Canada. CMHA has a National office in Ottawa and each province and territory has a division office.

The Canadian Mental Health Association was founded in 1918 by Dr.Clarence Hincks. He understood about mental illness because he himself struggled with mental health issues. The organization was originally called the Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene (CNCMH). The CNCMH was formed by a group of professionals in reaction to the desperate conditions in mental hospitals and institutions at the time including overcrowding and severe understaffing.

The CNCMH conducted surveys in each province with regard to the care of people suffering poor mental health. Recommendations were made to provincial governments for improving care and treatment. The CNCMH advocated for substantial increases in resources for hospital and community services, a re-orientation from the custodial model to active treatment and more professionals to be trained to provide better care.
In the 1920’s, the CMCMH initiated a public education campaign on the nature, extent and proper treatment and prevention of various psychiatric illnesses. Also at this time the organization established mental health programs for pre-school and school age children. Nursery schools and parent education courses were established.

On December 1, 1926 the Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene became formally and legally incorporated under Letters Patent. The Letters Patent set out the purpose of the CNCMH and provided its Dominion Charter. These remain essentially unchanged to this day, with the exception of the name of the organization and several of the by-laws.

During the Second World War, the CNCMH facilitated the organization of psychological and mental health screening of Canadian recruits for armed services. After the war, the organization participated in post-war planning with the Federal Government and secured annual mental health grants paid to all provinces for new psychiatric hospital construction and more staff. Additional funds were acquired to establish post-graduate training in medical schools for health professionals, particularly psychiatrists.

In 1950, the National Committee of Mental Hygiene became the Canadian Mental Health Association and the by-laws were revised to allow for the development of provincial divisions and local branches.

The advent of psychotropic medications (anti-psychotic drugs) in the 1950s lead to monumental changes in the care and treatment of individuals suffering from poor mental health. These drugs were seen as the key to unlocking the doors of the back wards and returning chronically mentally ill individuals to their communities and to their families. Throughout the 1950s and the 1960s, a concerted policy of de-institutionalization was launched across North America, reducing the population of large institutions.

Initially during the de-institutionalization period, it was believed that families, communities and the new “wonder drugs” were enough to ensure that supports and social networks would take care of the large numbers of newly released patients. Unfortunately, neither the de-institutionalized patient nor the family was given sufficient concrete assistance, nor were the communities assisted in coming to terms with prejudices, assumptions and fears about the influx of “psychotic patients” on their streets. Gradually governments and professionals became aware that de-institutionalization was not, in and of itself, a solution.

At this time, the Canadian Mental Health Association recognized the absolute necessity of community-based initiatives, not only to address the needs of de-institutionalized patient sand their families, but to promote better understanding and awareness of mental illness at the local level. This recognition resulted in a fundamental turning point in the goals, activities and objectives of the Association. No longer was the focus on surveys of mental health hospitals and institutions. From this point, the major thrust of the CMHA has been the encouragement and promotion of community based mental health service alternatives. This was evidenced by an ongoing emphasis on the development of provincial Divisions and local Branches. In June 1952, the Ontario Division received its provincial charter from the national Association.

In 1960, the Canadian Mental Health Association reviewed and developed an innovative plan for modern treatment of poor mental health. The publication of the epochal “More for the Mind” led to the development of smaller psychiatric hospitals and community clinics. By the end of the 1960s, a program of social and political action was fully implemented. Public and professional mental health education was underway through very well conceived programs and conferences.

The Association experienced a rejuvenated community orientation in the 1970s based on concern for mental health of all people in the community. In 1974, the CMHA introduced a three-year program called: Community Action for Troubled People. This program was designed to train volunteers and community leaders in the techniques of mobilizing action.

In the early 1980s, three areas were identified by the National Board as critical in determining the direction of the Association. These areas were psychiatric patient advocacy; integration of community resources and; the exploration of unemployment as a stress factor that could impact negatively on an individual as well as a family.

In 1982 the Association launched the Mental Health and the Workplace Project to promote mental health through the workplace and help former psychiatric patients obtain and maintain real employment. This ongoing project involves active research conducted in pilot programs in communities across Canada.

Increased public awareness and emphasis on community care and self-help were achieved through the 1984 publications of: “A Framework for Support for People with Severe Disabilities” and “Work and Well-Being”. The latter included a report on the findings of Phase I of the Mental Health and the Workplace Project and initiated Phase II of the project which entailed designing a national community-action model.

In the 1990s, the Canadian Mental Health Association continues to support the formation of self-help groups and strives towards maximum community involvement for individuals in the provision of mental health services, enhanced public understanding of mental illness, and greater advocacy to protect the rights and freedoms of the individual. The Association also has placed an increasing emphasis on involvement by consumers of mental health services at all levels of the Association. In addition to encouraging consumers to participate on Boards of Directors, committees and a variety of groups, creative ways are being sought to provide opportunities for consumers to influence decisions regarding their health care.