Stress & Depression – Struggles Among Young Canadians



According to the news released in April 2017 by the World Health Organization, it is estimated that more than 300 million people are now living with depression, an increase of more than 18% between 2005 and 2015. It is estimated that depression will become the second most common cause of disability, after heart disease, by 2020.


A joint study conducted by the Toronto Star/Ryerson School of Journalism was published on the front page of The Toronto Star on May 29, 2017. Indicating that more students are reporting being in distress than three years ago, and reports of serious mental health crises such as depression and thoughts about suicide also rose.


How serious is depression among young people?


When using the older data from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey Mental Health, it was already showing a fifth of Canadian post-secondary students were depressed and anxious or battling other mental health issues. This report was based on 4,031 respondents aged 15 to 24, which when extrapolated represents more than 4.4 million young people.


According to Statistics Canada, those between 15 to 24 years old had a higher rate of depression than any other age group, and approximately 234,000 young people who experienced depression also reported that they had suicidal thoughts at some point. Suicide is the second leading cause of death (after accidents), accounting for nearly a quarter of deaths in the 15-24 category, but fewer than half of them sought professional help for a mental health condition over the previous year.


What prevents young people from getting help


Many post-secondary students are afraid to reach out for help, because they are in an environment where they are afraid to come across as stupid or weak and being labelled as such. This especially common for those they are in co-op study programs or their professional degrees required internship training. Students who were unable to secure a placement for co-op training often felt inadequate when being compared to those highly competitive classmates. For those in this category and who have supportive and understanding parents will eventually overcome such a stigma. There are still many of those in this group when their unfortunate circumstances are being perceived or interpreted by their parents as a reflection of lacking the drive to succeed or not working hard enough to reach their goals will be pushed into making choices that may never cross their mind.


Recently, news broke out about a 4th Year co-op student at the University of Waterloo committed suicide due to unbearable pressure stemming from his academic study. Last year, a medical student who was unable to secure a placement to complete his two-year medical residency had successfully committed suicide.


Unemployment among young people


Unemployment among young people is rising in the last decade. Many may think that the majority of them are high school drop-outs or are unwed-single parents. The more accurate picture tells us that many of them are highly educated and very motivated to succeed, and they are simply the victims who happen being in the transition of the changing employment market. More than 12 per cent of Canadians between the ages of 15 and 24 are unemployed and more than a quarter are underemployed, meaning they have university degrees but end up in jobs that don’t require them. The latest numbers from Statistics Canada show that the unemployment rate for 15-to-24-year-olds is almost twice that of the general population.


What resources are available for young people?


Data collected from across the country by the study aforementioned shows dramatic increases in the number of young people seeking mental health services as well as increases in the associated costs of meeting that demand. Many post-secondary institutions are unable to keep up with the demand for mental health services for their students despite of substantial increase in funding to provide services within the campus. Data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information recently reported emergency department visits by youth from 15 to 24 seeking mental health or substance abuse treatment rose 63 per cent and hospitalizations jumped 67 per cent between 2006 and 2016.


McMaster University psychiatrist Dr. Catherine Munn has made a statement on the unprecedented demand for mental health services among young people in the campus – “We have lineups out the door and down the hall. Despite hiring more counsellors, we’re drowning.”


What experts are saying about this phenomenon 


Reliable studies conducted interviews with some leading experts across the country on this topic, and several issues were identified that may be contributing factors:

Academic pressure, financial burden, increased accessibility of higher education, increased use of technology, and dramatic change in the lifestyle of university and college students, all of these factors play an important role in the mental health crisis. In addition, the competitive job market means that a university degree is no guarantee of a career, leading increasingly stressed  students to seek out second or third degrees to set themselves apart.


If you think you have symptoms that look like having depression, such as having persistent feelings of sadness and a loss of interest in once enjoyable activities for at least two weeks, accompanied by physical and psychological symptoms like sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, trouble with concentration, low energy, and feelings of guilt or low self-worth, the first person you should see is your family doctor. Your family doctor will examine whether some physical health conditions, can imitate or worsen these symptoms. A thorough mental health evaluation by your family doctor or mental health professionals is recommended because depression often co-exist with other related conditions, such as anxiety.


Cognitive behavioural therapy — which aims to change patterns of thinking and behaviour through one-on-one or group counselling — is the preferred treatment for anxiety and depression. It has more lasting results than medication of which is less effective and can have side-effects, according to the Children’s Health Policy Centre (CHPC).


Benny Chan, M.S.W., R.S.W., R.P., R.M.F.T. Clinical Fellow

Founder, Green Pastures Counselling Services