The Canadian Mental Health Association, founded in 1918 and federally incorporated in 1926, is a national voluntary charitable organization dedicated to further the growth of mental health services across Canada.
Today, across Canada, thousands of members and volunteers commit countless hours to support the activities and programs of the Association by providing direct services to those in need and their families, informing the general public, promoting mental well-being for all ages, and keeping mental health concerns high on the government agenda.

Early 1900s

  • Clifford W. Beers, an engineer in New Haven, Connecticut, after suffering from a mental illness and cruel medical treatment, organized the National Committee for Mental Hygiene in 1909.
  • In Canada, Dr. Clarence M. Hincks established a mental hygiene clinic at the Toronto Juvenile Court — the first in Canada.
  • Dr. C.K. Clarke, the Dean of Medicine at the University of Toronto, collaborated with Hincks in providing early psychiatric treatment for adults in the Out-Patients Department of the Toronto General Hospital. This was the first community mental health clinic in Canada.
  • In 1918, with the assistance of Beers, Hincks organized the Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene in Ottawa. This Committee was the forerunner to the Canadian Mental Health Association.


  • In 1920, Hincks and Beers organized the International Committee for Mental Hygiene and began plans for the first International Congress on Mental Hygiene, which was held in Washington in 1930.
  • World War II delayed progress in the mental health field but created a demand for treatment services. The importance of early treatment was recognized and the preventive influence of high morale and inspired leadership was acknowledged. Public interest in mental health was stimulated.
  • In 1948, as part of the National Health Grants Program, the federal government instituted a Mental Health Grant to assist provinces in developing adequate facilities for the mentally ill.
  • Services, personnel, and research in mental health all expanded rapidly in the following ten years.
  • In 1950, the Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene became the Canadian Mental Health Association.
  • In 1951 Mental Health Week was introduced across Canada.
  • In 1952 the Ontario Division of the Canadian Mental Health Association received its provincial charter.
  • Local branches were established nation-wide and a volunteer network, visitation programs in local hospitals, gifts for patient programs, and organized drop-in centres were created.


  • Social action became part of the provincial associations’ role — presenting briefs to provincial governments on problems relating to mental illness.
  • Psychiatric theory and new medical breakthroughs meant shorter stays in hospitals. CMHA lead the way for community based rehabilitation services.
  • In 1962, the National Association made a submission to the Royal Commission on Health Services (the Hall Commission) — based upon the findings of the Committee on Psychiatric Services (the “Tyhurst Committee,” named after Dr. Tyhurst, the Chairperson). The report included sections on legislation, mentally disordered children, economics of mental illness and prevention.
  • In 1963 the full report — titled “More for the Mind” (a CMHA document) — stated that “mental illness should be dealt with in the same organizational, administrative and professional framework as physical illness.”
  • By the end of the 1960s, a program of social and political action was fully implemented and public and professional education of mental health was under way.




  • By 1970, major government reports were focusing on the need for planning and organization of services in coordinated systems.
  • In 1970, the Association took on an action orientation — to rejuvenate a community orientation with the Association’s concern for the mental health of all people in the community.
  • In 1974 CMHA Ontario brought community mental health concerns to the attention of the politicians. A consolidated program submission consisting of proposals for community mental health and volunteer programs from each branch was made to the Ministry of Health. As a result, the “Adult Community Mental Health Program” of the Ministry was created.


  • In the early 1980s psychiatric patient advocacy, integration of community resources and the exploration of unemployment as a stress factor were identified by the National Board as critical in the direction of the Association.
  • In 1982 the Mental Health and the Workplace project was launched.
  • In 1983 an award winning advertising campaign entitled “My Dad” was developed using a combination of TV, radio, magazine and newspaper ads and ran for a limited time in each year until 1987. Through the theme “A Caring Community Is the Answer” the campaign provided a method of increased awareness of mental illness and a shift in attitude towards public support.
  • In 1987 CMHA played a central role when Bill 190 received royal assent and the Mental Health Act was amended to give consumers the right to choose treatment alternatives.
  • In 1988 CMHA Ontario and branches played a major role in the development of the report entitled Building Community Support for People: A Plan for Mental Health in Ontario which made recommendations on a comprehensive system of community mental health services in Ontario.
  • By 1988 there was a total of 38 CMHA branches and Steering Committees in Ontario.


  • In 1991 CMHA National celebrated its 75th Anniversary across Canada.
  • Mental Health Reform was the top social policy priority for the Association.
  • In 1993, in response to the Ministry of Health’s release of the mental health reform policy framework Putting People First, CMHA Ontario emphasized the need for unified leadership, management, planning and funding of the mental health system.
  • In 1998, CMHA Ontario developed ACCESS: A Framework for a Community Based Mental Health Service System. The Framework is designed to provide high quality service to consumers in Ontario’s reorganized health system.
  • In 1999 focus on information and technology created the development of the CMHA, Ontario website. With the creation of the website, the concept of a ‘library without walls’ was becoming a reality.

CMHA Today


Over 50 years later, CMHA, Ontario continues to strive for maximum community involvement, enhanced public understanding of mental illness, and greater advocacy to protect the rights and freedoms of individuals.

We are proud of our many accomplishments and are confident that our increasingly comprehensive programs and services meet the very real, and often critical, needs of individuals, families, key support persons and communities.