A recent investigation shows young Canadians are reaching out for mental health help now more than ever and experts are linking the spike to increased pressure on socio-economic circumstances.

Rice Fuller is the senior director of health and wellness at the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University. His office, which provides counselling services to students.

He said he has seen a 20 per cent increase in the number of students seeking help in the past five years.

"That adds up to about 1,000 students a year," he said.

Ten years ago, Fuller said those numbers would have been closer to 700.

The solutions are going to have to come at a wider and larger level than just the university. - Rice Fuller, senior director of health and wellness, UNB and STU

Still, a joint investigation by the Toronto Star and the Ryerson School of Journalism found depression and suicide attempts among university students have risen dramatically in the past three years alone.

Calls to the Mental Health Helpline have increased by 344 per cent since 2010 by people 25 or younger and requests for help have nearly doubled mental health budgets in some schools.

Hospital visits and admissions for mental health have gone up 10 per cent in the last decade.

Robert Cribb, an investigative journalist for the Toronto Star, told CBC the striking rise in demand has happened so fast, it's left many specialists puzzled.

"We spoke with more than a dozen of the leading experts across the country and there's just no concrete sense of the why behind the numbers," Cribb said.

"What's clear is more and more youth are struggling in college and universities because of mental health problems."

He said mental health service providers are finding it difficult to keep up with the demand.

Determining the problem

Rice Fuller

Rice Fuller is a licensed psychologist and the director of counselling services for the University of New Brunswick and St. Thomas University. (Joy Cummings/UNB)

Fuller said his budget at UNB and STU has increased somewhat over the past few years to keep up with that demand.

This has included some funding for the program itself and some to accommodate two full-time internship positions.

He said the help they provide for their students includes simply sitting down and talking things through.

"One of the main things that we try and determine is is this an ongoing mental illness or is this the start of a mental illness," he said.

"Or is this perhaps a temporary reaction to some sort of negative circumstance that's occurring in their life?"

Fuller said temporary disruptions in mood and function are normal for everyone, but they should be approached differently than full-fledged mental illnesses.

He said it's difficult to pinpoint the sole cause of the spike in data because there are multiple determinants and significant social and economic changes are looming.

Fuller did say some positives can come out of the problem: acceptance and resources.

"I think there is decreased stigma around seeking help and as a result more people are seeking help."

A public health issue

University of New Brunswick Student Union Building

Fuller said his budget at UNB and STU has increased over the past few years to keep up with that demand for mental health services. (Daniel McHardie/CBC)

Fuller said the solutions to the problem must start earlier than university.

"A lot of work needs to be done upstream in terms of teaching our children both as parents and in our schools better coping skills and dramatically expanding the resources we provide for child and youth mental health services in our province," he said.

Because the problem is growing so rapidly, Fuller said it's becoming a public health issue.

"The solutions are going to have to come at a wider and larger level than just the university," he said.

"I think it's government [responsibility] but ultimately it's going to come down to parents as well."

With files from Information Morning Fredericton