Canada’s Mental Health Crisis: The High Cost of Delayed Youth Care

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Canada's youth mental health

The newly released report titled “Nurturing Minds for Secure Futures” has unveiled some startling revelations about the huge economic burden that protracted periods of inadequate mental health care for children and young people imposes on Canada.

The report also stresses the need to improve Canada’s healthcare system, which is estimated to have incurred a minimum annual cost of $4 billion—a figure experts argue would most likely be a conservative estimate only.

The current research was aimed at investigating potential implications for the healthcare system if adolescents and youth continued grappling with high levels of anxiety and depression without some systemic improvements.

Delaying treatment for mental illness does not affect only the individual sufferers but also puts a huge financial strain on the whole healthcare system.

Emily Gruenwoldt, President and CEO of Children’s Healthcare Canada, stressed the need for urgency when she said; “This report serves as a clarion call for action on behalf of Canada’s children and youth.”

Gruenwoldt emphasizes how prompt investment in health systems tailored specifically to children can rewrite tomorrow.

In addition, she points out that doing so will not only better physical and mental health outcomes but save billions for both families and healthcare systems.

The report estimates that between 800,000-1.6 million children and adolescents in Canada may be living with a mental illness.

The lower number stems from an international study which found 12.7% prevalence rates of mental illness among young people.

However, it must be noted that many instances of mental illness in children go unreported; therefore, this actual rate could be closer to one in five.

Additionally, according to the report Black, Indigenous, LGBTQ2S+, youth are at more risk than others.

It highlights that all youth are affected by these challenges due to lack of timely access to care thus necessitating this systemic imbalance be corrected forthwith.

Impact on Canada’s Economy

There are three major types of costs identified by this report-healthcare costs, community costs, and productivity costs (indirect) to calculate “cost-of-illness” due to poor mental healthcare provision.

Healthcare costs consist of expenses related to emergency department visits, prescription drugs, hospital stays and other medical necessities.

Community costs are linked to the criminal justice system, social services, family support and mental health provisions in public schools.

Indirect costs refer to the income that is lost as parents and others have to spend much time managing their child’s mental illness owing to a lack of access to care.

Collecting the data from different Canadian sources and international studies analyzed in this report, through publicly funding systems.

Canada has spent roughly $3.5 billion on fragmentary approaches towards anxiety and depression management among young people.

Additional losses include $280 million in parental earnings and $120 million within education and justice entities.

Potential for Cost Mitigation

The report shows that an investment in mental health care services and supports that will bring anxiety and depression disorders among youth back down to pre-pandemic levels could help reduce annual expenditures by $4 billion annually and save the country up to $1.5bn.

Early intervention as important for building resilience and potentially reducing mental health issues that may persist into adulthood.

Escalation of Mental Health Issues

It has been noted that there has been escalation of mental health issues among Canadian youth over the last two decades.

The report points out a decline in the percentage of young people aged between 15 and 30 years who reported having good mental health from seventy six percent in the year 2003 to sixty percent in 2019.

The COVID-19 pandemic further pushed these challenges up, leading to a rise in paediatric mental health-related emergency department visits despite a general decline in overall hospital admissions.

This exposed the strain on services for mental health, which had long waiting periods for counseling and therapy, some going up to two and half years–a major problem particularly in crises.

Dealing with it as Urgent

This report requires taking immediate actions, which are presented as recommendations.

Recommendations include coming up with a national strategy on child health with provisions on resources allocation towards outcome-based programs targeting vulnerable groups and establishing a national data strategy to follow up on youth’s mental care figures.

Chad Leaver, Director, Health and Human Capital at Conference Board of Canada emphasizes that “Addressing mental health needs requires not just catching up but surpassing pre-pandemic efforts to ensure swift and comprehensive support for children and youth”.

Finally, this report portrays vividly how economic costs and human lives are jeopardized by lackluster response to mental illness amongst young Canadians.

Time is of essence as major system-wide changes need to be made now, preventing worsening of mental health problems and ensuring timely quality help for the well-being of our nation’s future generation.


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