Mental health for young people | A boost in a crucial period

As researchers interested in the determinants of mental health, we are concerned about the mental health of our youth and the difficulty for them to access mental health services.

Posted on January 21

Marie-Claude Geoffroy and Jean-Philippe Gouin
Assistant Professor of School Psychology at McGill University (Canada Research Chair in Suicide Prevention) and Full Professor of Psychology at Concordia University (Canada Research Chair in Chronic Stress and Health) respectively*

This concern is not new. Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, many young people had mental health problems and needed help. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 10 to 24, and it is alarming to see a significant increase in the number of young girls committing suicide in Canada between 1981 and 2017.

Since the start of the pandemic, in March 2020, and especially as this situation continues today, the mental health of our young people has deteriorated and their adaptability is crumbling. They need help more than ever.

In the Longitudinal Study of Child Development in Quebec conducted by the Quebec Institute of Statistics, we measured depressive and anxiety symptoms in 2018, summer 2020 and winter 2021. By 2020, when the first wave of the pandemic ended, these young adults were resilient; we observed no apparent change in their mental health between 2018 and 2020. However, in the winter of 2021, after a year of the pandemic, we saw an overall increase in mental health problems among young people.

Worryingly, the proportion of young people with major depressive symptoms has increased from 6% in 2018 to 8% in 2020 and then to 10% in 2021.

For severe anxiety symptoms, the proportion rose from 5% in 2018 and 2020 to 9% in 2021, i.e. rates that almost doubled in a short period of time.

All indicators point in the same direction. There is a greater need for mental health care in Quebec.

Risk period

Previous studies show that the transition into adulthood is a risk period for the onset of mental disorders. Since March 2020, young people have had to adapt to online education, an unstable labor market, the loss of social ties. These difficulties arise during a pivotal time in their lives, when their mental health is already fragile.

To mitigate the harmful effects of the pandemic on the mental health of young people now and in the future, we need to facilitate access to the interventions already effective and available in the health network and innovate to offer additional services that meet their needs. necessities. Yet access to mental health care is frustratingly slow and complex. Moreover, these young people often have insufficient income to make use of private mental healthcare.

In particular, there is a glaring lack of psychologists in the public network. A deficit documented for several years. The waiting time for a psychological consultation is currently 6 to 24 months. This delay is an eternity when you are young and suffering.

An untreated and persistent psychological problem can prevent young people from completing their studies, working or even entering into a romantic relationship.

Discouragement can occur. Moreover, more than 70% of psychological problems appear before the age of 25.

It is not just a matter of opening job vacancies for psychologists in our institutions, but also of preventing the current exodus of psychologists into private practice. To achieve this, the government must consult psychologists to create working conditions that allow better mental health care for the public. The pandemic has exacerbated many social inequalities in our society. It is important to maintain high-level expertise within our public network. To do this, it is up to the government to empower our public network and psychologists to provide quality mental health care to the entire population.

We are uniting our voices with the voices of thousands of other clinicians, researchers and the Coalition of Quebec Public Network Psychologists⁠1 to remind of the urgency of investing in mental health, to care for young people now and empower them to build a better future. ⁠2

*Co-signers: Dr Amal Abdel-Baki, psychiatrist and professor in the department of psychiatry, faculty of medicine, University of Montreal and chief of the youth mental health continuum at CHUM; dr Anthony Gifuni, psychiatrist at Douglas Mental Health University Institute and assistant professor (clinical) in the department of psychiatry at McGill University; Sylvana Côté, professor of public health at the Université de Montréal and researcher at the CHU Sainte-Justine research center; dr Nicholas Chadi, pediatric researcher specializing in juvenile medicine and drug addiction at CHU Sainte-Justine; Michel Boivin, professor of psychology at Laval University and Canada Research Chair; Isabelle Ouellet-Morin, associate professor of criminology in the University of Montreal and Canada research chair on the developmental origins of vulnerability and resilience; Massimiliano Orri, psychologist at Douglas Mental Health University Institute and assistant professor of psychiatry at McGill University; Marie-Hélène Pennestri, psychologist at Rivière-des-Prairies Mental Health Hospital and assistant professor of counseling psychology at McGill University; Simon Larose, professor in the Department of Education and Learning Studies at Université Laval; Srividya Iyer, psychologist and associate professor of psychiatry at McGill University, researcher at Douglas Hospital Research Center; Martin Lepage, James McGill Professor of Psychiatry at McGill University and researcher at the Douglas Research Center, and psychologist at CIUSSS Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal

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