Mental health care needed by 1 in 6 Canadians

About one in six Canadians said they needed mental health care last year, Statistics Canada reports.

An estimated 600,000 Canadians have unmet mental health issues, survey suggests

Mental health of Canadians

9 years ago
Duration 2:22
A new survey on mental health suggests some Canadians who seek treatment don't always get it in a timely or affordable way

About one in six Canadians said they needed mental health care last year, Statistics Canada reports.

The findings are included in the agency's 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey on mental health that was released Wednesday. The survey results were based on a national sample of more than 25,000 people 15 or older in the 10 provinces.

The need for mental health care was mainly for counselling, the survey suggests. Other mental health care needs were for medication and information.

"An estimated 600,000 had a perceived unmet mental health care need, and more than 1,000,000 had a partially met need," the report's authors said, extrapolating from the sample.

About 17 per cent of the population 15 or older reported having had a mental health care need in the past 12 months, the agency found. Of these:

  • 67 per cent said their needs were met.
  • 21 per cent said their needs were partially met.
  • 12 per cent said their needs were unmet.

"The presence of a mental disorder, higher distress, and chronic physical conditions were positively associated with perceiving a mental health care need, many of which were unmet or only partially met," the report's authors concluded. "As well, higher levels of distress predicted a greater likelihood that needs would be unmet or partially met."

About 75 per cent of those with a mood or anxiety disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder reported a need for mental health care, compared with 25 per cent of those with a substance abuse problem.

Counselling needs were the least likely to be met, with 65 per cent showing it was met, 16 per cent partially and 20 per cent unmet.

Drugs easy to get, but not counselling

Dr. Ian Dawe, physician-in-chief at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Services in Whitby, Ont., said the report misses a large swath of other illnesses such as schizophrenia and panic disorders.

Dawe said that patients often say it's relatively easy to get prescription medications, but needs for counselling go unmet.

"This study really speaks to unmet needs outside of the medication realm, and I think that's very consistent with what we're hearing," he said.

He said barriers include cost for those without workplace or private insurance for therapy outside of a doctor's office.

Arthur Gallant, 23, of Burlington, Ont., was diagnosed with anxiety and depression when he was 13. Gallant said he now can't afford the services of a psychologist. 

"It comes at a cost of about $150," Gallant said, for two sessions a week. "That's my entire income."

Most perceived barriers to receiving mental health care were related to personal circumstances, although almost one in five who reported barriers said they were related to features of the health care system, such as language barriers.

About four in 10 with an unmet or partially met need said they preferred to manage the need on their own. Camille Quenneville, chief executive of the Canadian Mental Health Association's Ontario division, attributed that to the stigma associated with mental health issues.

There is a tremendous need for mental health care services in the community and hospital systems, Quenneville said.

"We know today in Canada, 500,000 people didn't go to work because they're struggling with their mental health," she said. "So I think if employers alone stepped up and wanted to work and help those in their workplace with their mental health issues and recognize the existing need that we know is there, I think we would make tremendous strides."

Gallant said many people are also being rejected by family, friends and employers because of the lack of understanding what mental illness truly is.

In a related report, the agency found higher rates of mood disorders and of generalized anxiety disorder among females, while males had higher rates of substance abuse issues.

With files from CBC's Kim Brunhuber


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