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Over half of Canadians consider anxiety and depression ‘epidemic’

Canadian Mental Health Association calls for new legislation to bring mental health into balance with physical health.

EDMONTON (ALBERTA) September 17, 2018 – Over half of Canadians (53%) consider anxiety and depression to be ‘epidemic’ in Canada, with that perception spiking amongst younger people, according to a new survey commissioned by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).

Fifty-nine per cent of 18 to 34-year-olds consider anxiety and depression to be ‘epidemic’ in Canada, followed closely by addiction (56%) and ahead of physical illnesses such as cancer (50%), heart disease and stroke (34%), diabetes (31%) and HIV/AIDS (13%). The survey accompanies a national CMHA policy paper, Mental Health in the Balance: Ending the Health Care Disparity in Canada, released today, which calls for new legislation to address unmet mental health needs and bring mental health care into balance with physical health care.

“Our universal health-care system is a point of pride for Canadians,” says Dr. Patrick Smith, national CEO, CMHA. “But the reality is, we don’t have a universal health-care system, but a universal medical system that doesn’t guarantee access to some of the most basic mental health services and supports.”

Eighty-five per cent of Canadians say mental health services are among the most underfunded services in our health-care system — and the majority (86%) agree that the Government of Canada should fund mental health at the same level as physical health.

Despite recent unprecedented mental health funding commitments made by the federal government, over 1.6 million Canadians report unmet mental health care needs each year. Worldwide, mental illness accounts for about 23 per cent of the total disease burden, yet Canada dedicates only 7.2 per cent of its health-care budget to mental health. And, the need for mental health services and supports is growing. By 2020, depression will be the leading cause of disease in Canada.

“The Mental Health Parity Act we are advocating for is not just about increasing funding for mental health services, but also improving coordination, treatment, research and access and making better choices about how best to spend health-care dollars effectively,” says Dr. Smith.

Lengthy wait times are a problem, in part, because there has been a chronic underfunding of community-based mental health services and a reliance on intensive, high-cost services like psychiatrists and hospitals.

Up to 80 per cent of Canadians rely on their family physicians to meet their mental health care needs, but those services are limited. Evidence-based health care provided by addiction counselors, psychologists, social workers and specialized peer support workers is the foundation of the mental health response in other G7 countries, but these services are not guaranteed through our public system. Consequently, Canadians spend almost a billion dollars ($950 million) on counselling services each year—30 per cent of it out of pocket.

A more integrated continuum of care provided through community mental health services can meet the needs of as many people with mental health problems as possible by including early intervention and prevention, enhanced treatment for those who need it, and longer-term follow-up and supervision for those with severe and persistent illness.

In addition to improving quality of life and health outcomes, mental health promotion, mental illness prevention and early intervention can reduce the burden on our health-care system. A recent study on the treatment of depression estimated that every dollar spent on publicly funded psychological services would save two dollars for the health system.

To make sure that those who need services and supports get them, new legislation must also address stigma and discrimination—in the health-care system, amongst practitioners and at the individual level—and improve access for those who are marginalized. Investments in social spending would address the root causes of mental illness: poverty, trauma and marginalization. In return, we boost our most vulnerable citizens’ ability to contribute to their communities and lessen the burden of illness nationally.

The imbalance in research funding of mental health vis-à-vis physical health, should also be addressed. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), for instance, spends only 4.3 per cent of its annual research budget on mental health. Canada needs sustained research investment in mental health to spur innovation, better translate scientific knowledge into practice and develop therapies that are appropriate, effective and that promote treatment acceptance for people with mental illnesses.

“The system is ailing, but we have a treatment plan to nurture it back to health,” says Dr. Smith. “When we improve service and supports for the one in five Canadians who will experience mental illness in any given year, we will see benefits in health outcomes, quality of life and wellbeing for all Canadians—the five in five—who have mental health.”

Mental Health in the Balance — Ending the Healthcare Disparity in Canada FULL REPORT 

Mental Health in the Balance — Ending the Healthcare Disparity in Canada SUMMARY REPORT

About the survey

CMHA partnered with Maru/Matchbox to conduct an online survey from September 5-6, 2018 among a total of 1,510 randomly-selected Canadian adults aged 18+ who are members of Maru Voice Canada (formerly known as the Angus Reid Forum)—the premier Canadian online panel with many features that differentiate it from traditional online access panels. The margin of error, which measures sampling variability, is +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20. The results have been statistically weighted according to education, age, gender and region (and in Quebec, language) Census data to ensure a sample representative of the entire adult population of Canada. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.


About the Canadian Mental Health Association

Founded in 1918, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is the most established, most extensive community mental health organization in Canada. Through a presence in more than 330 communities across every province, CMHA provides advocacy, programs and resources that help to prevent mental health problems and illnesses, support recovery and resilience, and enable all Canadians to flourish and thrive. For more information, visit

The Canadian Mental Health Association, Alberta is made up of eight Regions, the Centre for Suicide Prevention (located in Calgary), and the Division (Provincial) office (located in Edmonton). CMHA Regional offices focus on the delivery of mental health recovery services, housing, advocacy and mental health promotion. CMHA’s Divisional office supports and promotes the work of CMHA across the province of Alberta for collective impact. The Division and Regions work cooperatively to advance the vision of mentally healthy people in a healthy society.

 For more information, or to arrange an interview with a regional/local spokesperson, please contact:


Primary Contact

David Grauwiler

Executive Director

Canadian Mental Health Association, Alberta Division


[email protected]


Secondary Contact 

Jocelyn Wady

Communications Specialist

Canadian Mental Health Association, Alberta Division



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