Mental Illnesses in Canada

Mental illness is more common than some may think and each year, about 20 percent of Canadians experience depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. It affects people from all walks of life, regardless of cultural background, ethnicity, income and educational level, age, and sex.

How Common Is It?

According to a study titled The Life and Economic Impact of Major Mental Illnesses in Canada, some 7.6 million people had mental problems or disorders in 2011. Adolescents and children aged 9 – 19 account for 1 million. In terms of types of disorders, 4 million Canadians suffer from anxiety and mood disorders, and the number is expected to jump to 4.9 million over the next two decades. Anxiety and mood disorders account for 11.7 percent of all conditions, dementia and cognitive impairment make for 2.17 percent, and substance use disorder for 5.9 percent. About 1 percent of Canadians suffer from schizophrenia. The list of the most common mental health illnesses in Canada includes post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, eating, addiction and substance use disorders, bipolar disorder, and depression.

How It Affects Productivity?

National director at the Canadian Mental Health Association Fardous Hosseiny points out that around half million people are unable to work each week due to being diagnosed with mental disorder. In his view, depression is a major cause of disability, costing $50 billion in losses due to presenteeism, absenteeism, and unemployment. There are also costs for the Canadian population, including out-of-pocket costs, medications, hospital and physician care, and long term care. The Risk Analytica study also reveals that the annual direct costs amounted to over $42 billion in 2011, including income support, social services, and health care. The cumulative costs are expected to jump to over $156 billion in 2031 and over $290 billion in 2041.

The service utilization rate varies for different disorders. The per case cost for mood and anxiety disorders is six times lower than that of schizophrenia and five times lower than substance use disorders. There are also direct costs for services provided at the institutional level, including the criminal justice system and police and the educational system. Indirect costs include costs of undiagnosed cases as well as taxation and reduced income associated with more limited options for work.

What Can Be Done

Research shows that support is essential for patients with serious disorders and mental health problems. Persons who receive individualized support are found to be three times more likely to remain in the labor force. This finding is especially important considering that about 90 percent of patients with serious disorders are traditionally left out of the workforce. Fardous Hosseiny stresses on the fact that Canada’s public health system still focuses more on treatment than on prevention. At the same time, a lot of effort has been put toward tackling stigma, and more and more people seek treatment and support. One problem that needs to be addressed is the fact that mental health and illness are not treated equally to physical health. This is true for funding extended to overcome discrimination and stigma and for research work. Additional funding is also needed for early intervention and services provided by social workers, psychologists, and counselors. Supporting community mental health is essential to ensure that those who are asking for help have access to mental health services.

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COVID Related Stress Affecting Canadians

Recent data by Health Canada shows that Covid-19 has caused stress for some 11 million, and about 1/5 of them are at risk of experiencing traumatic stress. Just 20 percent of Canadians with high stress levels reach out for help.

A survey of Albertans that was recently conducted online shows that more and more people suffer from depression, stress, and obsessive behavior. Published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the survey includes 6,000 participants who answered questions related to indicators for obsessive behavior, depression, and anxiety. The survey reveals that about 60 percent of participants are anxious over viruses, germs, and dirt due to the coronavirus pandemic. More than half of respondents wash hands in a special way or more often. An overwhelming majority or 85 percent of Albertans say that they experience high or moderate stress. According to psychiatry professor at the University of Alberta Vincent Agyapong, it is not just viruses that people are worried about. Unusual behaviors and high stress levels can also be explained with lockdowns, restrictions, and job loss.

According to a study published by Nanos, 28 percent of Canadians feel their mental health is somewhat worse and for 10 percent it is worse. Respondents also reported feelings of isolation, sleeping difficulties, uncertainty, and elevated stress. A statement by the UN Secretary General confirms this, noting that the coronavirus pandemic affects societies across the globe. The main sources of stress and anxiety are economic uncertainty, concern for loved ones, fear about health, and social isolation.

Another study carried out by IPSOS shows that 51 percent of men and 66 percent of women experience stress as a result of the pandemic. However, just 20 percent of respondents reported that they sought support.

Why Is It Difficult to Seek Support

Stigma refers to the reaction of the majority against people suffering from mental health problems. Stigma is also associated with discrimination and disapproval of people based on stereotypical views and perceptions. People with mental illness often feel vulnerable which makes it more difficult to reach out for help. Many people also believe they do not really need help as it is natural for humans to want to be in control of their lives.

Vulnerable Groups

A new CAMH study shows that some groups are more vulnerable to stress due to COVID-19, including young persons, parents with children staying home, those concerned about money and who lost jobs, and women. Groups at a higher risk for infection and those more affected by the pandemic also include people with low incomes, refugees and immigrants, persons suffering from dementia, people with impairments, and those living in communal housing. Persons at risk are also those in abusive relationships and people living in poverty. And while the majority of Canadians are likely to experience short-term effects because of the pandemic, mental health is a source of concern for groups such as persons with preexisting conditions, coronavirus survivors, and essential workers. Essential workers, for example, are at a higher risk of developing serious mental health problems when lacking psychosocial support and protective equipment that helps ensure they are well-protected and safe. Professionals that are more vulnerable include occupational therapists, social workers, personal support workers, nurses, and physicians. Many of them are worried about infecting family members as they are at the frontlines. Risk factors also include work-related stress and shortages of protective equipment. Persons who had been required to go into quarantine, those who have infected family members or friends, and frontline workers are up to three times more likely to experience posttraumatic stress.