Steps on mental health help for youth surveyed by StatsCan

More than one in 10 young Canadians say they consulted professionals for mental health problems in 2012 and about a quarter sought informal support, Statistics Canada says.

About 8% of people aged 15 to 24 said they went online for a mental health diagnosis

About half of young Canadians with mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety disorders reported using professional services. (Paulius Brazauskas/Shutterstock)

More than one in 10 young Canadians say they consulted professionals for mental health problems in 2012 and about a quarter sought informal support, Statistics Canada says.

Wednesday’s issue of Health Reports looked at mental health supports among Canadians aged 15 to 24, an age group where mental health disorders often surface.

In 2012, 12 per cent of youth and young adults reported they’d seen or phoned a health professional about emotional, mental or substance use problems and more than twice as many, 27 per cent, turned to informal sources such as family and friends for such problems.

"Youth are well known to have high rates of mental health problems, but are often faced with challenges in terms of getting help for these problems, so we really wanted to investigate youth specifically," said report author Leanne Findlay, an analyst with Statistics Canada in Ottawa.

About half of young Canadians with mental health conditions, such as depression or generalized anxiety disorder, and a quarter of those with a substance use disorder reported using professional services.

A family doctor or general practitioner was the most commonly consulted health professional, reported by six per cent. Of those who did, Findlay said, it averaged six times in the previous year for 23 minutes per consultation.

Social workers, counsellors or psychotherapists were consulted an average of 15 times, with sessions averaging 49 minutes.

In terms of informal support, 20 per cent of young Canadians talked to a friend and 14 per cent turned to a family member.

About eight per cent went online for a diagnosis, two per cent to find help and two per cent to use discussion forums and social networks.

"Mental health is an important component of internet health information for youth, but the quality of that information is unregulated. Consequently, e-health literacy — the ability to use, evaluate and apply internet health information — is important for young Canadians," Findlay and co-author Adam Sunderland wrote.

The researchers also found females and those with higher levels of distress were more likely to consult professional and informal sources than males or those with low distress.

Having multiple risk factors generally increased the tendency to seek support, particularly among those who reported both a traumatic childhood experience and a substance use disorder

"It's not just having a mental health disorder, but if you have the combination of a mental health disorder plus another risk factor, you're even more likely to reach out for services or to obtain services, both professional services and informal," Findlay said.

The researchers used a broad definition of traumatic childhood experience that included witnessing physical abuse or experiencing physical or sexual abuse before age 16.

The Canadian Mental Health Association said the Statistics Canada report offers several reminders. For example, it's important to take meaningful steps to promote good health at home, at work and at school.

"Ultimately, we believe that every child and youth living in Canada should have access to a range of relevant mental health services, treatment and supports as soon as the need for these services arises," Mark Ferdinand, the group's national director of public policy, said in an email.

With files from CBC's Amina Zafar