Mental health continuum


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Approximately 90 % of youth who die by suicide have a mental illness, with more than half having major depression.1 2 Clearly, we can’t address youth suicide without effectively addressing underlying mental health issues. In order to do so, we need to understand what mental health looks like.

Mental health and mental illness are not simply at opposite ends of a single spectrum. Young people diagnosed with a mental illness can still have high levels of general mental well-being, while those without a diagnosed mental illness can show low levels of mental well-being. Mental health is best understood as a matrix, where people can move among states of mental well-being regardless of mental illness. They can flourish or languish, depending on individual functioning, social well-being and mental health issues. This model emphasizes that mental health is not simply the absence of mental illness.3 This means that it’s possible to have mental health while living with mental illness.


A model of mental health


One of the most important ways to prevent mental illness and promote mental health and recovery is to intervene during the time when a youth moves into adulthood (between the ages of 16 and 25).4 Unfortunately, there are major gaps between child and youth mental health services and adult services, and our system of care lacks coordination between child and youth serving and adult serving mental health agencies.4 The impact of a fragmented system is felt by those with a mental health and/or addiction issue that are caught between the two systems.5 Transition can be made easier by establishing clear protocols between sectors and service providers.5 Effective communication between ministries, agencies and leadership bodies is needed to provide seamless care and enable effective transitions.4


Additional resources

Healthy Child Manitoba, a program of the province of Manitoba, developed a continuum of supports and strategies for children, youth and families, broken down based on age groups.

We’ve got growing up to do: Transitioning youth from child and adolescent mental health services to adult mental health services, a policy paper for decision-makers, was released by the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health.