Report shows rising 'troubling' trends for youth mental health in Hamilton

A new study says two-thirds of Hamiltonians report very good or excellent mental health, but that's overshadowed by other findings, which show a substantial rise in poor mental health for children and youth in the city this year. 

Youth and young adults report higher rates of poor mental health and hospitalization for mood disorders

Mental health and psychiatric issues are the fourth leading cause of hospitalizations in Hamilton. Youth are increasingly affected. (syolacan)

A new study shows a substantial rise in poor mental health for children and youth in Hamilton, and experts say more preventative measures need to be implemented to address the problem.

Twenty-seven per cent of high school students surveyed in Grades 9 to 12 reported poor mental health, which is a steep increase from rates of 11 to 13 per cent in 2007. On top of that, hospitalization rates for children and youth diagnosed with mood disorders, including depression, more than doubled in five years. Rates of anxiety-related disorders increased eight-fold.

And those numbers are likely to continue to rise in following years if healthcare and social services aren't restructured, especially with a focus on early intervention, according to Hamilton Community Foundation (HCF) President Terry Cooke. 

"Mental health is placing an inordinate demand on an already stressed health and social services system," Cooke said, stressing that money and resources need to be allotted to support social workers, counselling services and affordable housing.

The "systemic pressure" on the healthcare system exists right now due to a lack of investments in those services, Cooke said. The lives of those with poor mental health would be improved if that changed, he said, and would "allow people to live with less stress in their day-to-day lives."

Cigarette smoking among youth has decreased, but teens who vape are five times more susceptible to trying tobacco. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Mental health and psychiatric issues are the fourth leading cause of hospitalizations in Hamilton, the study says. A number of varying factors including age, gender and work contribute to negative effects on mental health, which affects both young and old city residents.

Yet while Hamiltonians aged 50 to 64 are the most likely of all age groups to report their mental health as only fair or poor, the effects on younger generations are taking a toll on their physical health.

The rate of emergency room visits for self-harm increased to 150 per 100,000 people in 2017 from 118 per 100,000 people in 2010. Females under age 20 have the highest rates of all age groups with a rate of 410 per 100,000 — more than three times the general population, according to the study.

A separate survey of high school students in Grades 9 to 12, conducted by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, found almost one-third of students surveyed spent five or more hours on electronic devices in 2017. American social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has correlated this rise of social media use with the growing rate of hospitalization for self-harm, especially in teenage girls.

Early intervention strategies would help to slow these trends, Cooke said. One of the most troubling parts of the report for him shows the percentage of Hamilton senior kindergarten students who were observed vulnerable on emotional maturity. It rose to 12.3 per cent, up sharply from 9.4 per cent in 2010.

Last year the number of deaths in Hamilton from opioid overdoses was more than three times the number in 2012. (Eric Baradat/AFP/Getty Images)

It is more likely students' academic progress will be affected in later years if they're exposed as children to conditions that affect their mental health, Cooke said. 

Overall, smoking among youth has decreased and the number of those who have never tried it increased to 88 per cent in 2013 to 2014, compared to 72 per cent in 2003. However, with youth vaping on the rise, the study found youth who vape "are up to five times more likely to initiate tobacco smoking."

The study also shows emergency room visits increased for all types of drugs, except alcohol, between 2012 and 2017. Opioid-related deaths are also on the rise, with 103 deaths in Hamilton in 2018, compared to 37 deaths in 2012.

The Vital Signs report, compiled by a panel of community experts for the HCF, gathered data about 10 key areas of life in the city — including shifting trends in mental health and addictions for varying demographics.