This is the first in a seven week series that will examine the topic of child and youth mental health in B.C. As this is a complex and multifaceted topic, I will be narrowing my focus to a few popular beliefs and areas of concern that I have witnessed in my role as MLA. The purpose of this series is to debunk these beliefs, increase awareness of these concerns, end the stigma of mental health in our society and provide opportunities for you to impact what is happening in your community.
Over the last two years in my role as MLA it has become apparent that a central challenge we are facing, both locally and provincially, is that of addressing the mental health needs of youth. Through first hand experiences shared by constituents and the research conducted over a period of several months by my office I have begun to realize how limited the understanding of this issue is. Moreover, I have become concerned about the popular beliefs that underpin conversations and thinking about mental health.
Over the next several weeks I will be releasing a series of posts that will examine the topic of adolescent mental health in our region. My goal with this series is to debunk these dominant beliefs, increase awareness of these areas of concerns, and decrease the stigma of mental health in our society. We will also offer action items that you as individuals can undertake to impact what is happening in your community.
Popular Belief One: Mental Health is not a mainstream issue
Reality: Mental health is as mainstream as any health or social issue in our society today – perhaps more so. It is so mainstream, that you would be hard-pressed to find any individual that has not been impacted by mental health challenges in some way, whether it be directly or indirectly.
According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), by the time people reach 40 years of age, 50% of people in Canada will have had or have a mental illness. But it is not just the people who experience mental health problems that are impacted by them. When we include families and caregivers, mental health problems will impact almost every Canadian at some point throughout their lifetime.
However, challenges related to Mental Health not only put an immeasurable burden on the individuals and families facing them head-on, they also place a heavy weight on society. One study found that in Ontario, the burden of mental illness and addiction is one and a half times higher than all cancers put together and more than seven times that of all infectious diseases.
Similarly, when taking into account health care costs, lost productivity and reductions in health-related quality of life, the economic cost alone of mental health challenges is estimated to be $51 billion per year in Canada.
Popular Belief Two: Mental Health is not a youth issue
Reality: Surpassed only by injuries, mental health challenges in youth are ranked as the second highest hospital care expenditure in Canada.
Today, more than 6.7 million Canadians (1 in 5) are living with a mental health challenge. 75% of these mental health problems occur before the age of 25, while 50% develop by age 14. In fact, young people aged 15 to 24 are more likely to experience mental illness than any other age group.
It is estimated that 10-20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder. While at the same time, at least 3.2 million youth between the ages of 12 to 19 are at risk for developing a mental health challenge.
Here in British Columbia the numbers are not any better. According to the Ministry of Children and Family Development, approximately 15% of children and youth (140,000) in B.C. experience some sort of mental health problem. And just as troubling, it is estimated that less than 30% of youth who need mental health services ever access them, significantly increasing the chances that these challenges will carry-on into adulthood.
Understanding the true prevalence and scope of mental health challenges is the first step to reassessing how we as a society approach the topic of mental health as a whole. With an underfunded system focused primarily on the treatment of disease, we find ourselves fighting against mental illness instead of striving for mental well-being.
Weekly Action Item
This week’s action item is simple, yet it is perhaps the most important thing you can do to support the mental health and well-being of yourself and others – Get Informed.
Educate yourself about what mental health, and mental ill-health, really mean: What is mental health? How can we promote and achieve mental well-being? What is mental illness? What are signs and symptoms of mental illness? How can mental health challenges materialize in day-to-day life? How can you support someone struggling with mental health challenges? These are just a few of the questions that I hope you will all seek to understand over the next week.
To assist you in this endeavor you can find a wealth of resources online. Below I have provided links to just a few of them: