Growing Financial Struggles Fuel Mental Health Crisis in Canada

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A recent report indicates that challenges with mental health have become a growing issue in Canada. Results suggest that these issues may be partly driven by economic conditions and personal finances.

In the past year, suicidal thoughts have crossed the minds of one in seven Canadians, according to a poll conducted by Mental Health Research Canada (MHRC).

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According to the study, suicidal ideation appears more common among younger individuals, with a particularly high incidence among 16- and 17-year-olds and those aged 18 to 34.

The factors leading to this decline in mental health include financial hardships, inflation, and concerns about housing and food security.

The report, published Wednesday, identifies financial instability as a significant contributor to suicidal ideation. The data indicates that unemployed individuals, those earning under $30,000, those experiencing financial difficulties, or those who have accrued debt due to inflation were significantly more likely to have contemplated suicide in the previous year.

The poll, involving 3,819 Canadians, was conducted between July 27 and August 13, 2023, making it the 17th report by MHRC to monitor the mental health of Canadians since April 2020.

Although earlier reports noted minor improvements in respondents’ mental health when COVID-19 restrictions were lifted, the fresh data indicates that the mental health of Canadians is stagnating.

A downward trend in mental health linked to poor economic conditions and inflation was first identified in Poll 15. Unfortunately, by poll 17, the trend remained firmly in place.

About 40% of respondents felt their mental health adversely affected by the state of the economy. Particularly those with lower incomes reported more anxiety and depression.

The Bank of Canada’s measures to counteract inflation through increasing interest rates over the past year have negatively influenced many Canadians in the rental and housing sectors who are struggling or already struggled with the increasing cost of living.

The data showed that 23% of Canadians are worried about affording housing, an increase of 3% from the spring and an 8% increase from the previous year.

Aside from housing, the escalating rate of inflation has led to Canadians paying considerably more for groceries. This has resulted in stress for individuals uncertain weather their earnings would cover the bare necessities.

The study showed that food insecurity remains a significant issue with no relief in sight for those affected. Before the economic instability, many Canadians already faced food insecurity. However, after the pandemic and recent cost increases, this number has exponentially risen over the past years.

Nearly a third of Canadians fear they won’t be able to afford healthy food, the poll found. Further, 3% of respondents rely on food programs, such as food banks.

Individuals experiencing high levels of anxiety or depression were significantly more likely to deal with food insecurities, as were younger Canadians (aged 18-34), women, those with children under nine, unemployed individuals, marginalized groups, and those with chronic pain.

To offset the higher costs of living, 25% of respondents ended up in debt. Furthermore, inflation has affected three-quarters of Canadians in the past year.

To cope with these costs, many are cutting back on discretionary and even essential spending. Some are tapping into their savings or relying on credit cards and loans to make ends meet. A portion of respondents reported borrowing money from friends or family to keep afloat.

The survey linked mounting financial pressure with declining mental health. A total of 39% of people reported being adversely impacted by the economic downturn, while 37% feared they would not be able to cover all of their household bills in 2023.

Despite understanding mental health impacts, most people expressed confidence that they knew how to access support for themselves or loved ones. Nevertheless, only one in ten reported using mental health services in the last year.

The financial burden posed a significant barrier to accessing these supports, with almost a third of those who felt they needed it but did not pursue support indicating it was due to the cost.

Other barriers noted in the study include long wait times, accessibility issues, distrust in the health care system, and a lack of coverage through benefits. There has been an increasing trend of Canadians paying for mental health supports out of pocket due to insufficient coverage.