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Jonah Davids: New statistics tell a troubling story: Canada’s mental health crisis is only getting worse

Commentary

In September, Statistics Canada released the results of their 2022 Mental Health and Access to Care Survey, and it shows that far more Canadians are depressed and anxious today than they were a decade ago.

The survey, which is conducted every ten years, involves thousands of Canadians reporting their mental health symptoms in depth. Statistics Canada then uses those symptoms to determine whether individuals meet the diagnostic criteria for mental disorders.

Since 2012, the number of Canadians with major depressive disorder has increased by 62 percent. Today one in 13 Canadians, 7.6 percent of the population, qualify for the diagnosis. The number of Canadians with anxiety disorders has doubled, with one in 14 (7.1 percent) now suffering from social anxiety disorder. Rates of bipolar disorder rose and substance use disorder fell by 0.6 percent each, with the fall in substance abuse driven by declining alcoholism. 

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson.

While mental illness is much higher among the general population today than it was a decade ago, the rates among young Canadians, particularly young women, are staggering. One in four Canadian women between the ages of 15 and 24 qualify for social anxiety disorder, and nearly one in five qualify for major depressive disorder. This is a big increase from a decade ago when those numbers were about half of what they are now. 

Graphic credit: Janice Nelson.

Young Canadian men are half as likely to have a mood disorder as young women but are more likely to be addicted to alcohol, cannabis, or drugs, with one in 10 qualifying for a substance use disorder. They are also three times as likely to die by suicide though young women are far more likely to attempt.  

The surge in mental health issues among Canadians in the past decade is the result of several factors. Canada’s stagnant economy and the rising cost of living play a significant role. In a recent poll from Mental Health Research Canada, 39 percent of Canadians said that economic issues were impacting their mental health with debt, inflation, rent or mortgage payments, and food costs driving up anxiety and depression. Worse still, the poll showed that 41 percent of Canadians facing financial challenges had thought about killing themselves in the past year.    

Young Canadians today are the first generation to grow up with social media as an integral part of their lives, and its effects on their mental health are becoming apparent. Social media has changed how we interact with one another and led to more social comparison and cyberbullying. Statistics Canada’s Online Harms Report found that a quarter of Canadian teenagers and young adults report being bullied or harassed online. This percentage rises to 35 percent among those who are constantly online or have trouble making friends.

Research compiled by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has shown that the rise of widespread social media and smartphone usage starting around 2012 has negatively impacted the mental health of young women in Canada and across the world, which explains some of the gender differences we see in recent data.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftereffects deserve a good share of the blame. Lockdowns, isolation, fear of sickness, and growing political polarization have all taken a toll on the Canadian psyche in recent years. Statistics Canada’s Mental Illness During the Pandemic Survey found that Canadians whose incomes fell during the pandemic were one and a half times more likely to be depressed or anxious than those whose incomes rose. Front-line workers were also one and a half times as likely to be depressed or anxious as those not on the front line. However, it would be a mistake to attribute too much of the general increase in mental disorders to COVID as rates of mental illness were rising before 2020. 

To tackle the rise in mental health issues, the federal government has funded an online portal of mental health and addiction resources, announced a 988 mental health crisis hotline, and earmarked $12 million to develop ten “wellness hubs” which are part of a Canada-wide effort to make mental health care more community-based and accessible. Mental health organizations, however, believe these investments to be insufficient, and want the Liberals to keep their 2021 campaign promise of a $4.5 billion mental health transfer to the provinces.

As demand for mental health services has surged, wait times to see a mental health care professional have risen. A 2022 poll by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) found that one in four Ontarians had sought help for mental health challenges in the past year and that 43 percent found it difficult to access mental health supports. Despite long wait times to see publicly covered mental health specialists, a 2023 poll from CMHA found that 87 percent of Canadians want universal mental health care, as many say they cannot afford to pay out of pocket. Under the Canada Health Act of 1984, only mental health services provided by a physician or in a hospital are publicly funded.

As these alarming statistics show, Canada is in the midst of a mental health crisis. Economic challenges, rising social media use, and the COVID-19 pandemic have culminated in a surge of anxiety and depression which we lack the capability to fully address. With rates of mental illness rising, analysts predicting stagnant incomes for the next four decades, and the ascendance of artificial intelligence and virtual reality technologies that will blur the boundary between real and digital, an effective plan to tackle mental health in all its forms and complexities is needed more than ever. 

Patrick Luciani: Rome’s decline is a warning to the West. But the analogy only goes so far

Commentary

Review of: Why Empires Fall: Rome, America, and the Future of the West
Author: Peter Heather and John Rapley
Publisher: Yale University Press, 2023

President Xi Jinping of China skipped the recent G-20 meeting in New Delhi, and there was much speculation about why. Perhaps he was ill or stayed away to show solidarity with Vladimir Putin on his war in Ukraine. Maybe he was miffed with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the conflict on the Chinese-India border. 

There may be another explanation. Xi was showing the world that China had arrived as a major world power, demanding respect from the West and refusing to be treated as a mere member of a club of 20 countries. 

Over the past 40 years, the developing world’s per capita productivity rate has been higher than European and American rates. In 2000, the West produced 80 percent of the world’s output; by 2022, it was down to 60 percent, driven mainly by the rise of China. Today, some of the world’s fastest-growing nations are in Africa

Just as Rome’s rise created an empire that stretched from Scotland to the Euphrates, it inadvertently led to the rise of other powers on its periphery, such as Persia, the Visigoths, and the Vandals. 

This is the central theme in a recent book entitled Why Empires Fall: Rome, America, and the Future of the West, written by King’s College historian Peter Heather and Cambridge political economist John Rapley. They argue that Edward Gibbon’s six-volume 1776 classic The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire work has profoundly influenced how we think about the fall of Rome. Gibbon stressed Rome’s fall was caused by its inability or unwillingness to control its borders and further weakened by the rapid spread of Christianity, a position popular among neoliberals. 

The first part of Why Empires Fall shows how archeological findings over the past few decades have changed our perception of what caused Rome’s eventual collapse. Rome’s fall wasn’t the long, slow decline, as Gibbon claimed. Rome reached its economic apex around 400 AD and fell quickly over the next few decades, ending when Rome’s last emperor, Romulus Augustulus, gave up his rule to Odoacer, king of the Goths, in 476 AD. Rome’s insatiable quest for more land and treasure led it to overreach, stressing its internal political system while strengthening its neighbours. In brief, the Roman Empire’s prosperity sowed the seeds of its demise. The authors believe the West is confronting the same reality and blowback with the growing wealth of former developing countries.

Rome’s fall parallels the modern West’s quest for greater profits beyond its borders by plundering the world’s resources over the past 200 years. The West must accept the reality that its power is waning, they assert. It can either retrench and close its borders or acknowledge the facts of a new world order. 

Part two outlines the needed reforms to avoid Rome’s fate. The West can no longer expect to solve its internal political and economic problems by relying on cheap labour and resources from developing countries. To save its economy and status, America needs policies that diminish rising wealth disparities, higher taxes on wealth holders, more support for social programs, a universal basic income, affordable housing, higher minimum wages, and better job security. Regarding immigration, the authors want the West to confront the reality of an aging population. The West and America must also acknowledge and respect countries it once exploited as equals. 

But what looked like China’s relentless rise looks bleak today. As international direct investment is drying up, China faces a mountain of debt from massive public infrastructure spending and private housing construction. Even China’s massive trillion-dollar Belt and Road program is in serious trouble. One can easily make the case that China is more likely to collapse, given President Xi’s disastrous handling of the COVID crisis, high youth unemployment, and a failed real estate market that has drained the savings of countless families. And China’s support of Russia’s war in Ukraine jeopardizes its trade relations with the West. 

China shares a border with fourteen countries, along with others that share the South China Sea, and most are suspicious of China’s new-found power and intentions. In comparison, the West and the U.S. economies look remarkably stable. China has few friends other than a group of failed states, including Venezuela, North Korea, Iran, perhaps South Africa, and now a collapsing Russia. Hardly “peripheral” nations ready to bring down the West.  

The main strength of Why Empires Fall is that we now know more about Rome’s decline and the rise of outside powers that contributed to Rome’s demise. But to leap from that insight to pushing for a range of progressive policies to save the West—policies mainly aimed at the U.S.—is stretching the fall of Rome analogy. In Margaret MacMillan’s book The Uses and Abuses of History, American historian John Lewis Gaddis warned if we use history only as a rearview mirror, we risk landing in a ditch.