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A Toolkit to Strengthen Connectivity Between Primary Care and Mental Health Providers: CMHA Ontario


Founded in 1952, the Canadian Mental Health Association of Ontario (CMHA Ontario) is a non-profit charitable organization dedicated to championing the evolution of mental health and addictions care for Ontarians. CMHA Ontario works closely with its 27 branches across the province to support the organization, management, and delivery of services to consumers and families of individuals with mental illnesses, dual diagnosis, and concurrent disorders in a coordinated continuum of care.

In 2023, CMHA Ontario received provincial funding from Ontario Health’s Mental Health Centre for Excellence to examine the question: How can we strengthen connectivity between the primary care and mental health and addictions sectors?

Through the Primary Care First initiative, CMHA Ontario partnered with its local CMHA branches in their efforts to support primary care providers (PCPs) in assessing and treating mental health and addictions conditions and enhancing pathways to community-based services.

To accomplish this, CMHA Ontario engaged in a broad-based engagement process to inform the development of practical materials (most notably, a Primary Care Engagement Toolkit) to better enable CMHA branches to support primary care providers in their role and enhance connectivity between these sectors.

This work was part of a broader initiative at CMHA Ontario to explore the connections between primary care and the mental health and addictions sector. Related work on this topic included the co-design and development of capacity-building materials and delivering training and coaching to support these capacity-building efforts.

What Santis Did

  • Engagement sessions: Santis engaged in a broad engagement process with branches and primary care stakeholders to understand what cross-sectoral engagement looks like today, and what ideal engagement between primary and mental health care providers could look like – all with an aim to inform the development of practical products to support this relationship. Santis engaged with CMHA Ontario’s branch management and clinical leaders to explore current-state engagement practices, future-state needs, and opportunities to enhance connectivity. Santis also engaged provincial, regional, and local primary care stakeholders on their perspectives on the ideal relationship between primary and community mental health care providers. 
  • Primary Care Engagement Toolkit development: The engagement highlighted what is working well in the current working relationships between primary and mental health care providers, as well as opportunities and advice to improve engagement in an ideal future-state. Santis synthesized these findings to develop a Primary Care Engagement Toolkit – an adaptable resource for CMHA branches to use in fostering meaningful relationships with primary care providers in their community – no matter what their engagement looks like at present. 
  • Leveraging stakeholder feedback: The contents of the toolkit included educational content on the imperative for cross-sectoral collaboration, practical advice, and templates to support building and maintaining relationships, and steps to strengthen collaboration infrastructure and co-delivery of services. The toolkit was iteratively revised with branch and primary care stakeholders to ensure that the contents reflected stakeholders’ highest-priority needs. 


The Primary Care Toolkit was launched to CMHA branch clinical leadership at a webinar facilitated by Santis to support branch staff in further developing their engagement with primary care providers. The toolkit was also distributed to primary care stakeholders who lent their perspectives to support this work. Santis also facilitated a discussion with CMHA’s branch leadership network to further discuss opportunities for CMHA to advance cross-sectoral collaboration in mental health care delivery at the system-level.

Our Work In Action