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Social Issues
5 Facts About Mental Health In Canada
May 5, 2014
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Today marks the beginning of Mental Health Week in Canada, an initiative of the Canadian Mental Health Association which is intended to increase awareness of mental illness and help end the stigma associated with it.

To give you a few things to think about during Mental Health Week, here are five facts about mental health and mental illness in Canada.

5. Mental illness is widespread

According to the CMHA, about seven million Canadians live with mental illness at any given time. That's about one in every five people. About eight per cent of adults will experience major depression, although almost half of those who believe they've suffered depression or anxiety have never seen a doctor about it. And as the CMHA points out, mental illness cuts across society, affecting people of all ages, genders, income levels and cultures. Earlier this year, we compiled a collection of guests talking about their own struggles with mental health in the red chair.

4. Different groups are more susceptible to different problems

Although mental health problems are widespread, they're not spread equally across the population. According to Statistics Canada's Canadian Community Health Survey, men tend to have higher rates of addiction and substance abuse issues than women, while women have higher rates of mood disorders, like depression, and anxiety disorders, like panic disorder. Certain sub-groups have particularly acute difficulties: First Nations youth are five to six times more likely to die by suicide, and suicide rates among Inuit youth are 11 times the national average.

3. Substance abuse is a persistent concern

According to Statistics Canada, about 21.6 per cent of Canadians will meet the criteria for having a substance abuse disorder during their lifetime, with alcohol by far being the most common substance. Youth aged 15 to 24 have the highest rate of abuse, and those aged 45 or older have the lower rates. Substance abuse also interacts with other mental illnesses: according to a study cited by Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, about one fifth of those diagnosed with a mental disorder have a substance use problem at the same time.

2. Mental illness has a high cost

According to one estimate prepared for the Mental Health Commission of Canada, mental illness has a direct cost of $42.3 billion a year in Canada, with over $6.3 billion in indirect costs due to things such as lost productivity in the workplace. This toll is only expected to increase as the population ages and the burden of dementia increases. And according to one study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, mental illness is the second leading cause of disability in Canada, after respiratory disorder.

1. There's still a strong stigma

A widely cited report by the Canadian Medical Association found that just half of Canadians would tell a co-worker or friend that they have a family member with a mental illness — this compares with just less than three-quarters who'd discuss a cancer diagnosis in the family. About two-fifths of Canadians say they're not sure they'd socialize with someone with a mental illness, and the majority say they would be unlikely to hire someone with a mental illness as a lawyer, child care worker, financial advisor or family doctor. 

This year's campaign revolves around the question: "Are you phine or fine?" — "phine," in this case, defined as "saying you're fine when you are not." The idea is to encourage people to talk about their mental health — especially when they'd prefer to pretend they're not dealing with mental health issues.

"Too often people claim to be feeling fine when they do not feel fine," CMHA CEO Peter Coleridge said in a release. "Many may be experiencing poor mental health, but do not want to talk about it or seek support because of the discrimination and stigma associated with mental health problems." 

For more information on Mental Health Week and mental illness in Canada, see the website of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

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