formally known as Campbell River & North Island Schizophrenia Society

Campbell River Branch

Facts about Mental Illness in Canada

The following quote accurately describes the dilemma in dealing with this topic:

Ask 100 Canadians this question - what is mental disorder?-and you'll likely get 100 different answers.  And  a lot of them will be just plain wrong.  A character flaw, laziness, lack of discipline, the devil at work; such answers still pop up in public surveys.

This quote is from the book The Last Taboo: A Survival Guide to Mental Health Care in Canada.  This book is on your reading list and is highly recommended as a valuable resource.  As you can also tell from this quote, often the terms mental illness and mental disorder are used interchangeably.  We will be using them in this capacity throughout the sessions and handouts.

Severe Mental Illnesses are:

  • Biological brain disorders that interfere with normal brain chemistry.
  • More prevalent than most people realize.  Nearly 6 million Canadians are likely to experience a diagnosable mental illness; 3% of Canadians are likely to have  to live with a serious mental illness.
  • Equal opportunity diseases, striking families from all walks of life, regardless of age, race, income, religion, or education
  • Devastating to ill persons and their families.  One's thinking, feeling, and relating are disrupted.  All family members are affected.
  • Treatable! Appropriate medical care and rehabilitation enable many people to recover enough to live productive lives.

Severe Mental Illnesses are not:

  • Anybody's fault.  They are not caused by poor parenting or weak character.
  • Completely preventable or curable at this time.  Great advances have been made in understanding brain functioning, but not enough is yet known to prevent or cure serious brain disorders (mental illnesses).
  • Hopeless.  These illnesses present difficult challenges, but help is available.  Support, education, and a community of friends who understand can make family life satisfying and meaningful again.

To full appreciate the magnitude of these illnesses, we have some mental illness facts and figures to share with you.

Did you know...

of the 10 leading causes of disability worldwide, five are mental disorders?

  • major depression
  • schizophrenia
  • bipolar disorder
  • substance abuse disorder
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder

Facts about:


  • Schizophrenia is found all over the world, in all races, in all cultures, and in all social classes.
  • It affects 1 in 100 people worldwide; that's approximately 290,000 Canadians.
  • Persons with schizophrenia occupy more hospital beds in Canada (8%) than those with any other illness, except cardiovascular disease.  One out of every 12 hospital beds in Canada is being used by someone suffering from schizophrenia.
  • Schizophrenia costs Canadians more than $2.3 billion in direct health care costs (hospitalization, disability payments) and an additional $2 billion in support costs such as welfare, family benefits, and community support services, for a total of $4.3 billion annually.
  • Other costs, such as loss of individual potential, personal anguish, and family hardships, are impossible to measure.

Mood Disorders

  • They can occur at any age.  Approximately 1 in 4 of all women, and 1 in 8 of all men in Canada will have a serious mood disorder at some point in their lives.
  • At any given time, almost 3 million Canadians have serious depression, but less than a third seek help due to the stigma
  • Bipolar Disorder affects 1-2% of the population.
  • 80-90% of people with major depression can be treated successfully.
  • During their lifetime, about 5-12% of men and 10-25% of women will have at least one episode of major depressive disorder.
  • thoughts about suicide are so common in mood disorders that they are considered a symptom of the illness.
  • By 2020, it is estimated that depressive illnesses will become the second leading cause of disease burden worldwide, and the leading cause in developed countries like Canada.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

  • Approximately 2% of the population has OCD
  • Anxiety and depression account for 79% of all psychiatric diagnoses.

How Common Are Mental Illnesses in Canada?

It is estimated that nearly 1 in 5 Canadian adults will personally experience a mental illness during a 1- year period.  The following chart summarizes estimates of the prevalence of the major mental illnesses among adults in Canada.

Estimated One-Year Prevalence* of Mental Illness among Adults in Canada.

 Mental Illness
 Estimates of One-Year Prevalence

 Mood Disorders

  Major (unipolar) Depression

  Bipolar Disorder



Anxiety Disorders







 *Estimate percentage of the population who have the disorder during any 1 year period.

The following are the estimated rate of mental illness in Canada according to the Canadian Health Network:

  • Schizophrenia affects about 1% of Canadians
  • Moods disorders affect about 10%
  • Anxiety disorders affect about 12%

Mental Illness is a Physical Disease

 Illness Organ Affected
 Signs & Symptoms Treatment
 *Diabetes Pancreas
  •  Unusual thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Blurred vision
  • Lack of energy, fatigue
  • Unusual weight loss
  • Frequent infections
  • Numbness in hands or feet
  •  Insulin
  • Diet Changes
  • Healthy lifestyle
 *Cancer Lungs
  •  Chronic fatigue
  • Constant chest ache
  • Persistent cough 
  • Persistent lung congestion
  • Enlarged lymph nodes in neck
  •  Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Healthy lifestyle
 *Mental Illness
  •  Changes in personality
  • Changes in behaviour
  • Changes in perception
  • Changes in mood
  • Changes in thinking
  •  Medication
  • Psychotherapy
  • Support systems
  • Healthy lifestyle

 Heredity may be a factor in mental illness, as it is in diabetes and cancer.

For more statistical facts, access Health Canada's document A Report on Mental Illnesses in Canada online at

 The Myths about Mental Illness

There are many, many myths about mental illness.  These myths have contributed to creating this stigma, which ahs been around for centuries.  The stigma is really a result of fear and ignorance.

Commonly Held Fears

The Fear of Danger

Many people are afraid that people who have a mental illness are dangerous, unpredictable, and aggressive.  In rality, people with a mental illness are usually anxious, fearful of others, and passive.  The myth of danger is largely based on inaccurate and outdated cultural myths that always portrayed people with mental illness as violent, and mendia sensationalist stories about the few mentally ill people who do commit violent acts.  (For example, the 1995 death of sports television reported Brian Smith in Ottawa.)

Fear of the Unknown

People often fear what they do not understand.  In the past, there was extremely limited understanding about mental illness. Wild guesses were the norm for diagnosis.  Some cultures believed mentall illness was the work of evil spirits, while others believed bad blood, poisons, or lack of moral integrity caused it.  As people learn more about the real nature of mental illness, many of these harmful belifs will hopefully fade.

Fear of Violence

This is an illusion, reinforced by the fact that you always hear about the criminal acts perpetrated by individuas who are ill in a sensational manner-on the front page, with big bold type to emphasize or really exaggerate the issue.  People with mental disorders are no more likely to commit crimes than the general population.

However individuals with untreated mental illness do have a higher rate of violence than the general population.  Also, these individuals generally have a previous history of violent behaviour.

The three primary predictors of violence include:

  • History of past violence, whether or not a person has a serious brain disorder
  • Drug and alcohol abuse, whether or not a person has a serious brain disorder
  • Failure to take medication when experiencing command hallucinations or paranoid delusions