Mental health research needs more than private donations

Posted on February 5th, 2018

Research dollars

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health announced recently it received a record $100-million donation from an anonymous donor – money that will be dedicated to research.

This is welcome news, as our recent analysis confirms that, relative to other health conditions, Canada spends little on mental-health research.

It was encouraging to see such a large donation by a philanthropist. As The Globe and Mail’s André Picard wrote, “… it is doubly noteworthy because it dramatically underscores a significant cultural shift, where it is as legitimate – and socially acceptable – for a philanthropist to embrace mental health as a cause as it is cancer or heart disease.”

There have been calls (such as the Naylor report) to increase the national research budget. As our governments contemplate future policies and budgets, it is hoped that research allocations for mental health will increase. But equally important, it is hoped that large private-sector gifts are just the beginning of more support from private organizations and philanthropists to bolster the funding of mental-health research.

Using a proxy measure, we analyzed the dollar amount allocated for mental-health research by the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) – the main federal source of biomedical and health research in Canada – and compared it with the figure allocated to cancer research. We chose to compare mental illness and cancer because both of these illnesses have been highly stigmatized and both result in a high toll (burden of illness) personally and economically.

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