The Kids Are Not Alright: Canadian Youth in Crisis

The Canadian unemployment rate in 2019 is 5.79%, which is 1.1% lower than 4 years ago. The unemployment rate is gradually decreasing and Canadian GDP is increasing steadily. The addition of new jobs in May is one of the biggest contributors to lower unemployment and some economists predict that growth in the Canadian economy will persist into the near future. While there are lots of positive signs for growth in the Canadian economy, however, this is not necessarily translating into wellbeing for Canadian youth.

The current generation of Canadian youth is facing several mental health challenges. Manitoba is increasing the funding in youth mental health care by $4.2 million and Ottawa’s medical officer of health, Dr. Vera Etches recommends the Ottawa Board of Health to invest more in supporting youth mental health and substance use prevention. The increased suffering of Canadian youth triggers the need for such investment and despite the low national unemployment rate, the youth unemployment rate is high. The high unemployment rate among young Canadians may indicate that the future growth rate of the Canadian economy is not as promising as the initial numbers make it seem, as the national economy is ultimately dependent on the productivity of its future labour force.

Research conducted by Statistics Canada estimates 15% of youth in Canada are suffering from a mental illness or disorder and 24% of youth fatalities are accounted for by suicide, which is the second leading cause of death among 15-25 years old in Canada. The youth unemployment rate is around 11.5% in 2019. This is on average, 0.5% higher than in 2018. Youth’s mental health may have a significant impact on the future unemployment rate since young people represent the primary source of future labour. A research report from Thern, Munter, and Hemmingsson demonstrates that youth unemployment is associated with mental health problems. If the mental health conditions of Canada’s youth continues to deteriorate, the unemployment rate due to mental health problems will almost certainly increase, resulting in a smaller labour force in our economy. This will inevitably lead to smaller economic output and the potential for recession.

Canada’s youth is in crisis and clearly demands attention. Most Canadian political parties should be aware of this because they have included policies regarding improvements on youth mental health services in their campaigns. However, specific plans and detailed schedules of the actual implementation is lacking, while the matters in stake require an immediate reaction.

A potential solution for this is to increase the national awareness of the seriousness of youth mental health, while placing resources in the right place to maximize efficiency. Specifically, fair payment to mental health workers and funding on mental health service providers should be guaranteed. Higher wages would attract the labour force to this industry and retain higher skilled staff. This will improve the quality and accessibility of mental health services in Canada.

In addition, youth should be made aware of the mental health resources available to them, which should be both comprehensive and accessible. Every academic institution and workplace should contain a sophisticated and daily functional youth-specific mental health department. Moreover, an adequate number of staff should be placed in each section of the mental healthcare chain – including reception, assessment, treatment, and outreach services – in order to match the increasing demand of youth seeking assistance on mental health.

Canadian youth are the future of the Canadian economy. Aside from its many and obvious intrinsic benefits, mental health also has a great impact on workers’ productivity. If the Canadian economy wants to sustain or improve its growth rate in the future, the mental health challenges that Canadian youth are facing have to be resolved. Potential solutions to these challenges are increasing both the quality and accessibility of mental health service providers by guaranteeing fair payment of workers, creating more youth-targeted mental health service providers, and placing more staff where needed.  

Photo: “Mental health Concerns” by Scott97006 via Flickr

Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in articles are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the NATO Association of Canada.

About James Cho

James is in his senior year at the University of Toronto, pursuing a specialist in International Affairs and an Economics Research Intern at the NATO Association of Canada. With specific interest in East Asian Foreign Policies and cybersecurity, he has participated in Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, joint military exercise between the US and South Korea as a signaller. Also, he has been involved in various international events managed by UTM International Education Center as a student ambassador and provided services tailored to support and enhance the experience of global students. He is pursuing a career to work as a legal consultant/attorney for international organizations regarding to international disputes. He can be reached at: ivan.cho@mail.utoronto.ca.