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Aging and mental health policy framework

Traduction française en cours.

Depression, anxiety, dementia and other mental health conditions affect older adults at an increasing rate in Canada. In addition to the direct impact on older adults who are struggling with mental illness, the physical and mental health of family and caregivers is deeply affected as well. There is a need for support services and systems to manage health and social inequities associated with older adult mental health. Ageism, stigma and discrimination inflict harm on older adults, especially those who identify as Indigenous, Black, racialized, immigrant or newcomer, and who have diverse gender and sexual identities. 

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has developed the Aging and mental health policy framework to support public health action at all levels to improve mental health for older adults and enhance access to care for them, their families and their caregivers. The report presents an overview of current evidence on mental illness and dementia among older adults in Canada, ranging from mild depressive symptoms to diagnosed mental illness, dementia, delirium, suicidality and substance use disorders. Evidence on dementia prevention points to 12 modifiable risk factors that account for 40% of dementia cases globally. In addition to chronic disease, these risk factors include social determinants such as lower education attainment, social isolation, substance use and harmful environmental exposures. 

To address the challenges related to care and supports for preventing and treating mental illness among older adults, the framework includes five principles for a comprehensive approach to aging and mental health. These principles focus on ensuring:

  • access to evidence-informed mental health treatment;
  • care and supports for older adults and their caregivers to live with safety and dignity in the setting they choose;
  • embedding equity, diversity and inclusion in all aspects of mental health and dementia treatment and supports;
  • structures to support mentally health aging; and 
  • prioritizing and investing in older adult mental health at all levels of government. 

Specific areas of action for each principle are described, including roles for public health and other sectors.

A webinar featuring this framework was held in October 2023 by United Way of British Columbia. View the recording of the webinar here to further understand the framework and its applications.


Use this resource to:

  • identify roles for public health in prevention of dementia through addressing social determinants of health
  • develop a work plan for public health action on mental health inequities among older adults for each of the five framework principles
  • advance the prioritization of older adult mental health as an area of focus for public health and cross-sectoral action in Canada through advocacy, education and partnership building


Alignment with NCCDH work:

In 2023, the NCCDH worked with Health Promotion Canada to co-write Learning from Practice: Promoting well-being and health equity among older adults.

In 2022, the NCCDH worked with the editors of the book Promoting the health of older adults: The Canadian experience to develop a five-part webinar series to explore public health action on healthy aging.

In 2023, the NCCDH partnered with McMaster University researchers on the webinar Addressing inequity and abuse on long-term care: Implications for public health practice.


Related Resources:

Social determinants, health equity and mental health: A curated list

Innovative approaches to promoting population mental health and wellbeing: Who needs to be engaged for effective action?

See other resources related to the health of older adults.


Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (2023). Aging and mental health policy framework.

Tags: Older Adults, Document, Report / Document