Mental Health Statistics

This section provides general statistics on mental health in Canada as well as specific information about young adults.

It includes suggestions about finding and using statistics that best reflect the lived experience of your institution’s students, faculty, and staff.

These slides are available for use with this section of the presentation. For information about downloading presentation slides, see Preparing for the Session.

Mental Health Problems Are Common

Mental illness is common and in any given year, one in five people will experience a mental health problem or illness.[1] This means that if we count all of our friends, family, associates, people we work with, students in our classrooms, or even ourselves, we’re going to encounter a significant number of people who have a mental health problem or illness.

People in their late teens and early twenties are at the highest risk for mental illness; in these years, first episodes of psychiatric disorders like major depression are most likely to appear.[2] We know that mental health problems actually create more lost time from work and more lost pleasure in life than any physical health conditions.[3] Mental health problems can be hugely disabling.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, only one in three people (and only one in four children or youth) who experience a mental health problem or illness say that they have sought and received services and treatment. This means a lot of people who need treatment and support are not seeking help.

The National College Health Assessment collects data related to health and health behaviours of post-secondary students across Canada and the U.S. In 2019, the study of Canadian students found that over the prior year at least one time:[4]

  • 51% of students had felt so depressed that they found it difficult to function
  • 69% had felt overwhelming anxiety
  • 16% had seriously considered suicide

Pursuing a post-secondary education is often a demanding and stressful time. These stressors can play a role in a student’s mental well-being and contribute to increased risk for mental health problems.

Adaptations

You need to give participants only a few statistics to illustrate that mental health issues are prevalent. There may be statistics on student mental health at your institution that you can use. Check with counselling services, student services, or Indigenous student services to see if they have statistics specific to your student population.

As you select and present statistics, you might want to consider using:

  • Statistics that show the long-term impacts of the pandemic on mental health. For example, this resource was created during the COVID-19 pandemic, but in the next few years, other issues such as economic concerns or intergenerational trauma caused by the pandemic could affect students’ mental health.
  • Research that has been done in your community or at your institution.
  • Statistics that show how global issues impact students’ mental health, such as the environmental crisis or natural disasters.
  • Statistics that show the magnitude of suicide and overdose deaths of young people.
  • Both quantitative data (numbers) and qualitative data (for example, brief statements from students about how they are feeling).

The COVID-19 Pandemic and Global Environmental Stressors

The arrival of COVID-19 upended the functioning of post-secondary institutions around the world. This created new challenges and stresses for students, faculty, and staff, as well as the larger community. While the pandemic will end, there are other global factors, such as the environmental crisis, that have a great impact on students’ mental health; you may want to find statistics on this.

If you want to address the stressors of COVID-19, here are some statistics about the effect it’s having on mental health.

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Statistics Canada reports:[5]

  • 52% of participants indicated that their mental health was either “somewhat worse” or “much worse” since physical distancing.
  • 64% of those aged 15 to 24 reported a negative impact on their mental health.
  • 41% of youth report symptoms consistent with moderate or severe anxiety.

Also, in a May 2020 a Canadian Alliance of Student Associations study of 1,000 post-secondary students found the following:

  • Over 70% of respondents reported they have felt stressed, anxious, or isolated due to the pandemic.
  • 82% reported worry about their future beyond the pandemic.
  • Students are reporting more stress about everything, from their health, to their finances and future.[6]

Reflection Activity

Notice for yourself, do any of those statistics surprise you?

What thoughts have come up for you so far as you think about the prevalence of mental health issues?

Text Attributions

  • This chapter was adapted from Capacity to Connect: Supporting Students from Distress to Suicide. © Vancouver Island University. Added “Adaptations” section and “The COVID-19 Pandemic and Global Environmental Stressors.” Adapted by Barbara Johnston. CC BY 4.0 license.

Media Attributions


  1. Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2012).Changing directions, changing lives: The mental health strategy for Canada. Calgary: Author.
  2. Queen’s University. (2012). Report of the principal’s commission on mental health; Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2012). Changing directions, changing lives: The mental health strategy for Canada. Calgary, AB
  3. Canadian Psychological Association. (2006). Out of the shadows at last: Transforming mental health, mental illness and addiction services in Canada: A review of the final report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology; Warren Sheppell Research Group. (2005). Workplace mental health indicators: An EAP’s perspectivehttps://www.shepellfgi.com/EN-US/AboutUs/News/Research%20Report/pdf/ir_mentalhealthindicators_enreport.pdf
  4. American College Health Association. (2019). American College Health Association-National College Health Assessment II: Canadian Reference Group, executive summary spring 2019. Silver Spring, MD: American College Health Association.
  5. Statistics Canada. (2020, May 27). Canadian’s mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Daily. https://www150.stacan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/200527/dg200527/dg200S27b-eng.htm
  6. Canadian Alliance of Student Associations. (2020, June 15). Students are still worried: COVID-19 and post-secondary education. https://www.casa-acae.come/students_are_still_worried_covid19.

License

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Capacity to Connect: Supporting Students’ Mental Health and Wellness by Gemma Armstrong; Michelle Daoust; Ycha Gil; Albert Seinen; Faye Shedletzky; Jewell Gillies; Barbara Johnston; and Liz Warwick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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