History of the CMHA (National Level)

The Canadian Mental Health Association is one of the oldest continuing voluntary health organizations in Canada.

It began existence as the Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene (CNCMH), founded by Dr. Clarence M. Hincks and Clifford W. Beers in January 26, 1918. Hincks was very interested in the field because he had experienced bouts of mental illness.

A short historical note records the purposes and objectives of the Canadian National Committee for Mental Hygiene, as tentatively described at that first meeting. They included:

  1. War Work (a) Psychiatric examination of recruits. (b) Adequate care of returned soldiers suffering from mental disabilities.
  2. Mental examination of immigrants (post-war) to ensure a better selection of newcomers.
  3. Adequate facilities for the diagnosis and treatment of cases of mental disease.
  4. Adequate care of the mentally deficient.
  5. Prevention of mental disease and deficiency.

The first official meeting of the CNCMH was held in Ottawa on April 26, 1918. A provisional constitution was adopted.

In its first five years, the CNCMH built a firm foundation for meeting the objectives established in 1918. Surveys on the care and treatment of people suffering from mental disorders were conducted in every province. Mental hospitals in all provinces, except Ontario and Quebec, were inspected at the request of provincial governments. The extent of mental disorder was found to be greater than expected, and preventive programs were non-existent. In accordance with the committee’s recommendations, provincial governments spent over six million dollars on improving facilities for the mentally ill.

CNCMH surveys of schoolchildren, conducted in several centres in Ontario and Quebec, resulted in over 150 special classes for retarded children being established by school boards. Mental Hygiene clinics were promoted and, in some cases, partially supported. A study of the psychiatric screening of immigrants resulted in a reduction of the number of new Canadians with mental disorders. The problem of “shell shock” and the rehabilitation of soldiers suffering from mental and nervous disorders was addressed through co-operation with DSCR and the Director General of Medical Services in the army. A beginning was made on public and professional education in mental hygiene and psychiatry.

The above history is paraphrased from the CMHA National Website