More than one in three Canadians are at “high risk” of mental health issues, and millennials, women and those with a low-income are the most vulnerable groups, according to a new Ipsos report.
It’s the second year the pollsters zeroed in on their Mental Health Risk Index. Based on Canadians’ levels of stress, and feelings of hopelessness and depression, the report is classifying 35 per cent of the country as “high-risk.”
That’s two percentage points higher than 2015 results.
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“What this indicates is that people are more comfortable talking about [mental health] and it’s an issue that’s coming to the forefront. People want to deal with it,” Jennifer McLeod Macey, vice president of the polling firm’s Health Research Institute, told Global News.
She said the report is pointing to key patterns that Canadians who are feeling isolated or overwhelmed need to pay attention to.
“You’re not alone. Look at your fellow Canadians here, we’re all feeling the pressure and we all want to talk about it,” she said.
READ MORE: Canadian millennials hardest hit by mental health woes, according to poll
Thirty-two per cent of Canadians said that several times over the past year they felt stressed to the point where it affected their daily life. Another 18 per cent admitted they felt depressed or hopeless almost daily for weeks-long stretches, while 19 per cent said they felt stressed to the point where they couldn’t cope with things on more than one occasion.
Five per cent of Canadians who were polled conceded they thought of suicide or self-harm more than once in the past year. Another eight per cent thought of it at least once.
Based on these responses, Ipsos flagged 35 per cent of Canadians at “high risk” on its index. Twenty-three per cent of the country was classified as moderate and 42 per cent are at low risk of encountering any mental health issues.
These are the groups that are hardest hit
Millennials are dealing with tough times. Fifty-six per cent of the age group fell under the high risk category – that’s a steep climb compared to 38 per cent of Generation X and 15 per cent of baby boomers.
A whopping 40 per cent of women are at a high risk, too, compared to 30 per cent of men. Finally, low-income Canadians were grappling with issues that put them in the highest risk category.
READ MORE: One-third of Canadians at ‘high risk’ for mental health concerns, poll warns
McLeod Macey said she isn’t surprised that these groups were most vulnerable.
“It’s the social context of their lives that’s really driving these mental health issues. If people are bombarded with everyday stress, they’re eventually going to be overwhelmed,” she explained to Global News.
“We’ve heard about the stress of coming out of school, moving in with parents, and an inability to find a job. Maybe [millennials’] lives aren’t what they thought they’d be and the reality of the day-to-day pressure is weighing on the shoulders of these young adults,” she guessed.
Women could be juggling work-life balance, or they could be part of the sandwich generation, tending to kids and parents or grandparents. Within the workforce, the glass ceiling or disparity in pay could be tampering with their well-being.
Regionally, British Columbia had the most Canadians at “high risk,” which the pollsters didn’t anticipate. There, 45 per cent of people are at high risk, compared to last year’s 26 per cent. McLeod Macey’s hope is to keep an eye on the province to see if the statistics keep rising.
READ MORE: Millennials facing increased rates of stress compared to other generations
Last year, Atlantic Canada had the highest proportion of “high risk” residents. It’s now the second-highest region at 39 per cent.
Shedding the mental health stigma
There is a silver lining to the results: More Canadians are opening up about their mental health and feel good about their mental state despite their life challenges.
The vast majority of Canadians – 86 per cent – rated their mental health as good or better. One-in-three Canadians even called their mental state “excellent.”
What’s new and fascinating to McLeod Macey is that two-thirds of Canadians who fell under the “high risk” category still self-reported their mental well-being as good or better.
This could mean they don’t recognize or don’t want to admit their mental health is at risk. On the other hand, they could find living with these stressors is commonplace and manageable, she said.
READ MORE: Stigma keeps youth suffering from mental health issues in the dark
Still, Canadians are talking about mental health and pulling the veil off of a once taboo topic.
Forty-nine per cent of Canadians said they felt more comfortable talking about mental health compared to two years ago. Sixty-six per cent of those who are at high risk even admitted they talked to someone within the past year about their mental health.
McLeod Macey says these are major strides forward, but that still leaves one-third of those at high risk without any help.
The Ipsos poll was conducted in mid-April 2016 with a sample of 1,000 Canadians.