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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:


  1. Christine Abrams-
    May 8, 2015 at 8:50 pm

    I am a consumer within our system of mental health services and I am a teacher who has students who are or will become consumers within our system. I am very well educated about the illness that I deal with thanks to MANY years of navigating the ins and outs of both the Alberta and BC systems.

    I advocate in every survey on this topic I can find and in every meeting at my schools that we have a DESPERATE need for more front line councillors in schools. One of my schools has 450 students and we share a councillor with at least 2 (maybe 3) other schools. That’s NUTS. (Pun intended.)

    Teachers in my schools OFTEN are VERY aware of students who need extra help at a very early age. Early intervention in MANY of these instances could result in a SIGNIFICANT reduction in potential future problems. However, we fight to get them time with the overworked councillor. We struggle to get their parents to LET them get extra help because societies stigmas are more important than the long-term health of their children. We put them on increasingly long waiting lists to be evaluated. This is particularly cruel for those students whose parents can’t afford to have them tested privately, because IF we can get the parents on board with getting them help and they can’t afford the private tests, the student loses more and more time when solutions could be implemented instead of the steady decline in their health that leads them into more and more problems.

    I LOVE that you are tackling this issue.



    • May 8, 2015 at 9:44 pm

      Hi Christine, thank you for the info. I have heard this from a couple of others as well (mostly parents). There is not enough capacity in the school system to deal with the children on the wait list for evaluation. Many parents then go private. But then of course, there are those who cant and that is particularly troubling.

  2. May 8, 2015 at 10:51 am

    In the mid 1990’s there was a test which could be done on

    elementary school age children…………the test showed the level

    dopamine and other markers in the child’s blood. These markers

    show the child’ s potential for happiness. If the child had very low

    levels then that child was at greater danger of looking for a high

    in drugs. A first try will possibly be addictive.

    To prevent a child from taking that first try and instead to do

    things in the eg social/exercise/art…….and other areas, ought to

    be preventative. Are there studies and /or data that could assist

    with this very sad problem?

    Irene cockayne thanks for a yes we got your e-mail

    • May 8, 2015 at 9:41 pm

      Hello Irene, I never heard of this before. If you could point me to these studies I woudl be happy to read them. Andrew

  3. Joan Hunter-
    May 8, 2015 at 10:44 am

    Mental health has always been a neglected issue, mainly due to the
    stigma attached to it. There are instances of many people ‘falling
    between the cracks’, simply because mental health is not a priority in
    our Health Care System. Does that need to change? Most certainly,
    but I am not sure it will happen anytime soon.

    • May 8, 2015 at 9:40 pm

      Hello Joan, while it may take time, we have to continue to press for it to happen in my view.

  4. Susan Eyre-
    May 8, 2015 at 10:22 am

    As 60 year olds, we can really relate to youth mental health. Often mental health is the turning point to what direction we take. We survived, but it wasn’t easy. Mentoring could have really helped me avoid the pitfalls of the ramifications of the problems I was dealing with.

  5. Wendy Fagan-Marshall-
    May 7, 2015 at 4:43 pm

    A most welcome series. I am very glad the MLA has brought this broad reaching and often misunderstood topic and it’s issues to the public forum. This will be engaging many and I commend you for your continued leadership. Without a directed and informed focus on mental health, especially as it affects young people, the myriad of side effects and impacts leads to loss and frustrating lives. Thank you Andrew Weaver.

    • May 8, 2015 at 9:46 pm

      Thank you Wendy. I look forward to the conversation and discussions here and on Facebook.