May 2, 2017 7:00 am

Why more Canadian millennials than ever are at ‘high risk’ of mental health issues

The mental health crisis among Canadian youth has seen an alarming increase in youth suicide in recent years. Global News spoke to several people who have been affected by this troubling trend.

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You know their predicament: student debt, shaky employment and housing prices that are out of reach. Millennials have their share of life’s worries, and it’s taking a toll on their mental health.

A staggering 63 per cent of Canadian millennials are at “high risk” for mental health issues, according to a new Ipsos report released exclusively to Global News.

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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.

While there are other vulnerable segments of Canadians, it’s this age group that stood out as the hardest hit by mental health woes, the pollsters say. Last year, 56 per cent of millennials fell into the “high-risk” classification while in 2015, only 53 per cent did.

“We saw that a 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 at the polling firm’s Health Research Institute, told Global News.

READ MORE: These 3 groups are at ‘high risk’ of mental health issues in Canada. Here’s why

The reason why may be due to a number of factors.

“When you dig deep into it, we’re seeing this group is more open to talking about [mental health] and perhaps are more self-aware. They also have difficult life circumstances at that age,” she said.

Across the board, 41 per cent of Canadians from all ages fell into the “high-risk” category. That’s up from 35 per cent last year and 33 per cent from the year before.

READ MORE: How mental health should be taught in Canadian schools

But it’s millennials – or those 18 to 33 years old – who are hardest hit. They may not have kids to feed or mortgages to pay, but Canada’s generation of the future is feeling the stress.

While more than one in six millennials were at “high risk” of mental health issues cropping up, only 41 per cent of Gen Xers fell into that category, for example. It was even lower – 24 per cent – for baby boomers. (But baby boomers saw the biggest jump in the high-risk classification.)

Loucia Beveridge knows the experience firsthand. She moved from Vancouver to Toronto where she went to university. At 19, she was doing full-time classes at the University of Toronto, played water polo for the school, and took part in the model United Nations program.

“I took on too much too fast and I started experiencing symptoms of mental distress. That was the beginning of a three-year journey through my struggles until I finally received help,” she told Global News.

“I felt very stressed, like something shifted at the end of my second year [of school]. My family members started to notice things about me that were out of character. It took me a really long time to accept that I was struggling. I had to go through a lot before I found the treatment that was something I believed in and something that I felt helpful,” she said.

READ MORE: What happens when mental health education isn’t taught to kids?

Peer support and counselling were the cornerstones of what helped her heal.

Keep in mind, mental illnesses typically manifest in young adulthood. People between 15 and 24 report the highest rate of mental illness and addiction compared to any other age group, according to Dr. Katy Kamkar, a Toronto-based registered psychologist at the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health.

READ MORE: Major depression is on the rise in youth, especially teenage girls

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in this age group, second only to accidental deaths. The Canadian Mental Health Association – or the CMHA – estimates that 4,000 Canadians die from suicide each year.

Up to 20 per cent of young Canadians are affected by a mental illness or disorder. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, eating disorders and substance abuse are the most typical for this age group.

“We know that 70 per cent of mental health problems and addiction have an onset in childhood and adolescence. A lot of times, symptoms and signs may not be detected or identified and may cause more distress or interfere with functioning in early adulthood,” Kamkar warned.

READ MORE: The No. 1 mental health issue Canadian employees take time off work for

There’s another piece to the puzzle, too: Awareness. Millennials are a cognizant group and they’re treating mental health as a legitimate concern. This could be part of why there are more millennials at “high risk.”

The years of promoting mental health awareness and shedding stigma are paying off, especially on millennials, according to Ed Mantler, vice-president of programs and priorities at the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

“We’ve been tackling stigma and forcing awareness on youth, so now we have a population of millennials who are more comfortable than previous generations for speaking up early about mental health issues they’re facing,” he said.

READ MORE: One-third of Canadians at ‘high risk’ for mental health concerns

“It’s a good news story in a way because we know early intervention is an important factor in recovery, so people seeking help and getting that early intervention is far more impactful than waiting until they’re in their 30s and 40s,” he said.

Frontline health-care workers, from doctors and nurses to family physicians and pediatricians, are at the ready, too.

“We’re diagnosing these issues much more readily than we used to and doctors and mental health professionals are more aware than they’ve ever been about what to look for, what questions to ask about mental health and how to determine who needs help,” Mark Henick, national director of strategic initiatives at the CMHA, told Global News.

The experts’ sentiments are backed by the Ipsos findings: 85 per cent of Canadians considered mental health to be as important as physical health, but millennials felt the strongest about this.

READ MORE: Why the WHO chose depression as its focus this year

They’re also the most likely to write or post about their mental health status online or on social media. While 10 per cent of Canadians said they’ve opened up online in the past year when they were experiencing difficulties, it was millennials who led the way at 24 per cent – or almost one in four.

And then, of course, there are the challenges that millennials face. Henick said the major life transitions this age group is trying to figure out affects their mental well-being.

“They tend to spend a longer time at home, they have different expectations for life and the workplace. It’s a major life transition when you’re redefining what the norm is for your life. Millennials experience that more than any other prior generation,” he said.

READ MORE: Stress, anxiety plaguing Canadian youth

The Ipsos poll revealed that Canadians are following in Beveridge’s footsteps in seeking help.

Thirty-one per cent said they talked to family or friends about their mental health issues in the past year, 23 per cent reached out to a family doctor or primary health-care provider, and 16 per cent talked to a counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

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 PreventionDepression 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.

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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