More than one in four Canadians are at “high risk” of mental health issues, but millennials, women and people with low incomes are the most susceptible, a new Ipsos report warns.
Canadians living in the west and in Ontario are also the most vulnerable by region, according to new findings released exclusively to Global News.
It’s the third year the pollsters zeroed in on their Mental Health Risk Index and the report’s release marks the start of Mental Health Week. Based on Canadians’ levels of stress and feelings of hopelessness and depression, the report classifies a whopping 41 per cent of Canadians as being at “high risk” for mental illness. That’s a “significant” increase from 2016’s 35 per cent.
“We saw that the proportion of Canadians at high risk increased overall, but really, there’s this chunk of millennials feeling the weight on their shoulders,” Jennifer McLeod Macey, vice president of the polling firm’s Health Research Institute, told Global News.
“Mental health is definitely an issue that’s increasing but as more people are talking about it, it could be that more people are recognizing it as depression or something else that they need to get help for,” she said.
Canadians feeling stressed, hopeless
Across the board, Canadians are encountering more stress, depression and suicidal thoughts, the report warned.
Thirty-six per cent of Canadians admitted that several times throughout the year, they felt stressed to the point where it impacted their daily lives.
Another 24 per cent said there were several instances in which they felt stressed to the point where they couldn’t even cope. Nineteen per cent said they felt depressed to the point where they felt sad or hopeless almost every day for a couple of weeks or more.
Seven per cent said they seriously considered suicide or self-harm more than once in the past year, too.
These are the groups that are hardest hit
Millennials were the hardest hit the past year. Sixty-three per cent fell into the high-risk category compared to 41 per cent of Gen Xers and 24 per cent of Baby Boomers.
Forty-seven per cent of women were at high risk compared to only 36 per cent of men. Low-income Canadians fared the worst year-over-year, with 47 per cent of those who made less than $40,000 a year falling into the high-risk category.
When it came to regional breakdown, Ontario and the Western provinces saw the largest numbers of residents falling into the “high-risk” classification. B.C. had 49 per cent, followed by Alberta (46 per cent), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (45 per cent each) and Ontario (44 per cent).
WATCH: A new poll shows the number of Canadians at high risk for mental health issues is on the rise for the third year in a row. As Shirlee Engel explains, one age group, in particular, is being disproportionately impacted.
Only 33 per cent of Quebecers – or one in three – fell into the “high-risk” category along with 35 per cent of those in Atlantic Canada.
It makes sense that these groups were singled out as vulnerable populations, according to experts.
Millennials, for starters, are coping with a tumultuous time in life transitioning.
“We’re talking about a group who has some difficult circumstances right now: starting their lives, starting their careers, managing relationships. Things for this group have been a bit more challenging. They’re also assessing their mental health more, recognizing it and coping with it,” McLeod Macey said.
Women, as a whole, tend to suffer from depression and anxiety disorders more than men, who encounter substance abuse more. Men are also less likely to come forward about mental illness, according to Mark Henick, national director of strategic initiatives at the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Women also grapple with risk of postpartum depression after childbirth.
“There are unique challenges that women face. There’s a struggle between the workplace and home – we’re fortunate that we’re increasingly seeing more women in executive roles, for example. We’ve made a lot of progress on those fronts but it also has a lot of implications society has to deal with,” Henick explained.
Low-income households also face the pressures of paying for basic necessities, from rent to groceries and transportation. Psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy services are prohibitively expensive, considering sessions can cost between $100 and $250, he added.
“Part of mental health is stress of paying bills, feeding your family, wondering where your next paycheck is going to come from. These are large hurdles we can’t tiptoe around,” McLeod Macey said.
Don Mahleka, 27, understands the pressures firsthand.
Born in Zimbabwe, Mahleka and his mom moved to Canada when he was in grade 9. The pair moved into a one bedroom shelter and Mahleka remembers growing up with his single mom working double shifts to keep the family afloat.
READ MORE: Stress, anxiety plaguing Canadian youth
He was diagnosed with depression by his first year of university at 18 years old. He struggled with keeping up with coursework, looking after his family and connecting with his peers.
“I was feeling as though I didn’t belong, or I didn’t feel normal. I felt like I wouldn’t be able to pursue my dreams and be a contributing citizen. I felt like my life wasn’t worth as much,” Mahleka said.
Finding the silver lining
Mahleka sought help and he’s glad he did. It was the turning point in his journey.
After he received a diagnosis from his family doctor, he worked with a counsellor and relied on peer support. He found a community of other peers grappling with similar issues.
He still works with his counsellor on follow-ups to work through the highs and lows life throws at him.
WATCH: Number of Canadian teens, children with mental health issues rising. Lama Nicolas reports.
Now, he’s a research assistant at Dalhousie University. He’s also a part of the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Youth Council and shares his story at local high schools to let young Canadians know that resources are out there.
And that they’re not alone.
“At first, I felt like no one else was experiencing this so I felt isolated. Reaching out helped me see there are others I could connect with and there are others who wanted to hear,” he said.
There are some promising findings stemming from the Ipsos report, too.
Eighty-five per cent of Canadians said they consider their mental health as important as their physical health.
Thirty-one per cent said they were talking to their family or friends about their mental health, and another 23 per cent reached out to their family doctor.
“Sometimes one of the most therapeutic acts you can do when you’re struggling is to open up to others,” Henick said.
The Ipsos poll was conducted in mid-April 2017. A random sample of Canadian adults were interviewed online for the survey, which was weighted to bring it in line with Canadian demographics and which has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
Where to get help
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.