About 10 per cent of Canadians aged 15 or older, or nearly three million people, said they had at least one mental or substance-use disorder in the past year, according to a report from Statistics Canada that also suggests 77 per cent of people have "flourishing" mental health.

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Pharrell Williams performs his song Happy. Most Canadians say that they feel good and function well in their daily life, according to a Statistics Canada report, but a significant number also report mental health issues. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/Associated Press)

For the first time, Statistics Canada combined measurements of mental health, such as emotional happiness and social and psychological functioning, with questions about meeting the criteria for the following disorders: 

  • Depression.
  • Bipolar disorder. 
  • Generalized anxiety disorder. 
  • Alcohol, cannabis or other drug abuse or dependence.

"It's 77 per cent who are in flourishing mental health, and that is in general they felt good about and they functioned well in their daily life," said analyst Heather Gilmour, author of the report in Wednesday’s issue of the agency’s Health Reports.

'A state of well-being'

The approach to asking about mental health is in keeping with the World Health Organization’s definition of it as more than just an absence of mental illness but "a state of well-being."

Nearly 22 per cent of respondents were classified as having "moderate" mental health and 1.5 per cent were "languishing," meaning they experience low positive emotions and function poorly.

The percentage flourishing was higher than in other countries such as the U.S., the Netherlands, South Africa, France and Korea, which ranged from about 12 per cent to 69 per cent. Other countries used different methodologies and considered different age groups, such as university students, Gilmour said.

In terms of mental illness, 72.5 per cent were at the highest level of mental health.

"That means that 27.5 [per cent] were not in their optimal level of health, that's still a large proportion."

Several factors were associated with complete mental health, including:

  • Age older than 65.
  • Having a partner, which is closely tied to having good social supports.
  • Men and women were equally likely to have complete mental health.
  • Higher income, education and employment status.
  • Spirituality.
  • Physical health.

Gilmour hopes that by knowing some of the associations with mental health, such as lower socioeconomic status, could help agencies that develop policies and programs to foster positive mental health.

Fear of being judged

Peter Coleridge, national chief executive officer of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said the statistics in the report aren't as promising as people might think.

Coleridge noted that one person in five lives with a mental health issue each year. He said 500,000 people will miss work this week because of a mental health issue and suicide is the second-leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 24.

"When you think of the discrimination and stigma in our society associated with mental illnesses, many of the people responding to the survey would be very unlikely to divulge information about their mental health status for fear of being judged," Coleridge said.

Coleridge called for further investments to maintain and improve the mental health of children and youth in particular and a focus on prevention. Greater access to mental health supports and services such as counselling and social supports in the community are needed he said, rather than just acute care.

The report is based on results from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey of 25,000 people aged 15 or older in the 10 provinces. People living on reserves, those in the military, prison or long-term care were not included in the survey.