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 Ontario, Canada

About Mental Illness

Severe mental illnesses are brain disorders that can be treated and managed effectively if an individual has access to a combination of medication, supportive counseling and community support services, including education and vocational training.

Basic Facts About Mental Illness

There are two distinct types of mental illnesses:


  • Serious to persistent mental illnesses which are caused by psychological, biological, genetic, or environmental conditions.
  • Situational mental illnesses due to severe stress which may be only temporary.
  • Mental illness does not discriminate; it can strike anyone regardless of age, gender, race or socioeconomic level.
  • Mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes, heart disease or AIDS.
  • 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime.  The remaining 4 will have a friend, family member or colleague who will. (Note 1)
  • The onset of most illnesses occurs during adolescence and young adulthood. (Note 2)
  • Mental illness affects thinking, mood or behaviour and can be associated with distress and/or impairment of  functioning, with symptoms that vary from mild to severe. (Note 1)
  • With proper treatment and support, many people affected with mental illness can return to normal, productive lives.
  • 86% of hospitalizations for mental illness in Canada occur in general hospitals. (Note 2)
  • Only one third of those who need mental health services in Canada actually receive them. (Note 1)
  • In Canada, mental illness is the number one cause of disability, accounting for nearly 30% of disability claims and 70% of total costs. (Note 1)
  • While mental illnesses constitute more than 15% of the burden of disease in Canada, these illnesses receive only 5.5% of health care dollars. (Note 1)
  • The stigma attached to mental illnesses presents a serious barrier not only to diagnosis and treatment but also to acceptance in the community. (Note 2)

Notes:  Information in this section was reproduced (January 2012) with permission from the NAMI Texas website and updated with Canadian statistics as follows:

Note 1:   Source:  Mental Health and Addiction Statistics, CAMH website, www.camh.net

Note 2:   Source:  Health Canada.  A Report on Mental Illnesses in Canada. 2002

More on Serious Mental Illnesses