Study finds mental health issues, depression prevalent among Canadian youth

Sep 4 2018, 6:29 pm

A newly-published report has found that issues of mental health and depression are “prevalent” among Canadian youth (age 15-24), with 11% having experienced depression in their lifetime.

Entitled Raising Canada, the report was released by Children First Canada and the O’Brien Institute for Public Health. It is based on data from Statistics Canada, the Canadian Institute for Health Information, the Canadian Institute of Child Health, Health Canada, and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The report estimates that 10-20% of Canadian children may develop a mental health disorder, and that the prevalence of mental health disorders in children and youth has remained the same since 2006-2007.

Data collected in three provinces (BC, Manitoba and Saskatchewan) in 2016-17 showed that one in 12 youth (age 15 to 24) were dispensed at least one medication to treat a mood or anxiety disorder. The report also noted that mental health concerns account for a significant and increasing proportion of child and youth emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

In fact, over the last decade, there has been a 66% increase in emergency department visits, and a 55% increase in hospitalizations, of children and youth due to mental health concerns.

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The report also found that in 2015, Canada was one of the five countries with the highest teenage suicide rates, over 10 per 100,000 teens. In 2012, 14% of children and youth aged 15- 24 reported having suicidal thoughts in their lifetime.

A 2016 survey conducted by Kids Help Phone found that one in five (22%) children aged 13-18 reported considering suicide in the past 12 months; 46% of this 22% reported having a plan. Finally, the report found, girls are two times more likely (67% to 33%) to seriously consider suicide compared to boys.

“Many Canadians think this is one of the best countries in the world to raise a child, but the statistics prove otherwise,” says said Sara Austin, founder and Lead Director of Children First Canada.

Austin noted that Canada “consistently” ranks far behind most other affluent nations for the wellbeing of children, falling in 25th place according to UNICEF.

Other key and concerning takeaways from the report included:


  • The leading causes of childhood deaths in Canada are preventable accidents, injuries and suicide
  • Canada’s rate of infant mortality is among the highest of OECD countries

Physical Health

  • 27.9% of children age 12-17 reported being overweight or obese
  • 25% of children have not received the full 4 recommended doses of diphtheria, whooping cough, and tetanus vaccine by age 2
  • 35% of 5 – 17-year-olds meeting the daily recommended guidelines for physical activity


  • 1.2 million children live in low-income housing
  • 10.7% of families with children under 6 years of age say they experience food insecurity

Child Abuse

  • One in three Canadians reports having suffered some form of child abuse before the age of 16
  • 26% experienced physical abuse, 10% experienced sexual abuse, and 8% had exposure to “intimate partner violence”


  • In 2013-14, 17,500 hospitalizations of children and youth were for injuries, 3,000 of which were intentional/caused by others

In light of these numbers and statistics, those behind the report said it is a “call to action” for the federal government and provincial and municipal leaders as well as all Canadians to do more to invest in the health and well-being of Canada’s children.

The report’s recommendations also include:

  • The establishment of a national Commission for Children and Youth, an independent government office to promote the best interests of children and hold government accountable
  • The implementation of a children’s budget to track national investment in children, ensure the equitable distribution of resources, while ensuring funds are allocated towards evidence-based solutions for children
  • The full implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Canadian Children’s Charter

“It is both an economic and moral imperative that we act now, and we call on our government, and on all Canadians, to join us,” said Austin. “Our collective fate as a nation rests on the well-being of our children.”

Eric ZimmerEric Zimmer

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