Our Jack.org Youth Voice Report 2020 reflects the voices of 1,107 young people from every province and territory, sharing their experiences and perspectives on what causes mental health struggle in their communities and what prevents young people from accessing the help they need. The goal of this report is to help ensure youth experiences and thoughts are considered and included in any solutions built to address youth mental health. Our aim in putting these findings and recommendations forward is to guide post-secondary administrators, policy-makers and other adult allies as they work to ensure that the improvement of Canada’s youth mental health system is a national priority. Including the voices of Canada’s youth will ensure that we build a mental health system and culture that reflects their needs.
This is just a summary of the 2020 Youth Voice Report. Read the full report here.
Read the full 2020 Youth Voice Report
The State of Youth Mental Health in Canada
There is a major crisis of access regarding mental health services in Canada, with long wait times for affordable or publicly funded mental health care, preventing people from getting help in a timely manner. Of course, many young people do not seek help in the first place. According to Statistics Canada, the most common reasons people in Canada have unmet mental health needs are because they don’t know where to find help, feel they are too busy to get help, or can’t afford the help they need. The financial burden that may come with accessing services indicates an equity gap in the current mental health care system.
The urgency to address issues of mental health for young Canadians has increased as we continue to navigate the Coronavirus global pandemic. Youth have already reported increased mental distress in the wake of the pandemic, with 18% of youth contemplating suicide compared to 6% of youth the previous year. In addition, the Canadian Mental Health Association has reported that the increase in suicidal ideation is particularly apparent for at-risk populations, such as Indigenous peoples and those who identify as LGBTQ2S+.
But there's good news. Youth in communities across Canada have come together in novel ways to support one another and have seen that mental health has received additional attention during the conversation around the pandemic. These challenges and opportunities provide a new lens through which to examine youth mental health in Canada, while also transcending the current moment. Our hope is that this report will be valuable in considering solutions to the crisis of access during the pandemic and beyond.
Summary of Research and Recommendations
Encourage the use of teaching practices that support student wellbeing.
Youth are facing intense pressures without always having clear pathways to appropriate mental health support. Young leaders at Jack.org identified the following as some of their biggest challenges:
Academic Stress. 94% of post-secondary survey respondents reported that academic stress creates mental health struggles for them and for their peers. At Regional Jack Summits, youth delegates from every province and territory raised academic stress as a cause of concern as well, demonstrating the ubiquitous nature of this issue for youth across the country.
Uncertainty About Digital Mental Health Services. Youth are experiencing some hesitancy around using digital mental health services, a particularly important challenge to highlight in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the Virtual Summit Experience, delegates pointed out how the pandemic has increased both the need and opportunity to enhance and expand digital mental health resources in Canada. However, only 37% of survey respondents reported accessing digital mental health services during COVID-19. While youth in the network seem optimistic about the possibilities of digital mental health care for the country, they also seem unsure about how effective these services will be for their own needs.
Difficulty Finding the Right Fit. Access to mental health care requires not only the presence of affordable services and resources, but also ones that genuinely meet the needs of a given individual. Across our network, 61% of Jack.org survey respondents believe that there are few resources to support those struggling with their mental health in their community, and an even higher number (65%) believe that there is a lack of culturally sensitive resources available.
- Provide mental health breaks in class.
- Share mental health resources with students, especially at moments of stress or transition.
- Facilitate dialogue about mental health.
- Consider more flexible grading and assessment policies.
Help young people access and navigate online mental health services.
- Prioritize clear communication with youth about available services.
- Consider and address inequities in internet access.
- Look to digital services as a key complement in a suite of care options.
- Collect more data on youth perceptions, use, barriers, and outcomes to digital services.
- Involve youth voices in the design and development of services.
Increase the availability of culturally appropriate mental health services.
- Establish clear referral pathways and provide a wider scope of culturally appropriate resources for youth.
- Bring a wider range of voices to the table when developing and making decisions about resources.
- Invest in community-based emergency response teams to replace police as first responders to mental health crises.
More on the recommendations in the full 2020 Youth Voice Report
Meet Some of the Network
Sope Owoaje, who advocates for better mental health in Iqaluit, Nunavut, highlighted the need for more equitable internet access across Canada.
“Digital services are one of the biggest things that we struggle with in Nunavut and it affects the way we receive mental health services here since the internet is very unreliable. It becomes something that’s exclusive and we can’t be part of. Down south you can probably connect with a counsellor from your house and have this longer conversation over the phone or over the computer. Up north, you’d have to be able to have a good enough connection to be able to have this good conversation with a counsellor in a different area, which means having to go to the public health clinic or the hospital to access that connection.”
Jay Legaspi, a mental health advocate in British Columbia, knows first hand how difficult it can be to speak about mental health in the classroom.
“It’s a big problem in post-secondary and university: professors not noticing the signs of students going through mental health struggles... In 2018 I was going through a lot with my mental health and I was not prioritizing it at all, and because of that, I stopped going to some classes. My prof would see me again and ask, ‘Where were you?’ And I would say, ‘Oh, I just didn’t feel good.’ And she would just say, ‘Okay!’ And she was nonchalant about it. Some other profs don’t acknowledge when other students are gone, or they don’t follow up after the class. I dropped the class because I was going through a lot, and I couldn’t do it. And maybe if she would have reached out, and asked ‘How are you, really? Are you okay? Do you need help? I haven’t seen you in classes lately,’ I would have felt reassurance, as in, ‘Okay, someone is looking out for me, someone knows what I’m going through.’ And I could acknowledge that it’s hard to do assignments, but I’ll still do them with the help of my prof.”
The importance of working with her community in Alberta toward positive mental health was highlighted by Alex San Diego.
“Humans are collective, community-based people. Reaching out is not just about getting that clinical therapy help. It’s also about finding where you belong and where you fit in. And I think a lot of people struggle with that. I hear that all the time from siblings or people I work with. When you find that group that you can talk to and relate to, that is so good for your self-esteem. It helps you figure out what kind of person you want to be and gives you a sense of purpose...I reached out for support on my own, but I didn’t talk about it with my people, and so I wasn’t fully healing. And now that I’m trying to attempt a more collaborative approach, that’s way more effective for me.”
Ezechiel Nana, a mental health advocate and student at the University of Ottawa, experienced the benefit of instructors considering and discussing mental health in education firsthand.
“Most of the profs in my department always have those open discussions, not only about how they want us to do well, but they want us to be mentally and physically well, too. I think that they know how important it is, because students can’t perform if they’re not mentally and emotionally well... To see so many teachers put aside the grades, put aside the workload, put aside so many things just for our wellbeing and say, ‘This is important, guys, we need to talk about mental health’ — it makes us feel heard and welcome in that environment and decision-making, and invested in whatever we’re trying to learn.”
We reached out to the Jack.org youth network to better understand the insights young people have regarding mental health in Canada. It should be noted that young women are overrepresented in particular, both among respondents and within the Jack.org network more generally. This demographic skew is typical within mental health work, and we understand that more research needs to be done to better understand young men’s perspectives on mental health.
In addition to survey data, youth insights on mental health from collaboration sessions at five Regional Jack Summits and the national Virtual Jack Summit Experience informed this report. We also gained insight for this report from current and former Jack.org Network Representatives through individual interviews. Information from six Jack Chapters was gathered through the Campus Assessment Tool, a participatory research tool conducted by post-secondary Jack Chapters, to better understand the services and resources available at institutions across the country and gain the perspectives of young people in Canada who may not be involved in mental health advocacy.
A Call to Action
A common theme across these recommendations is the need to consult with young people in order to ensure better mental health for young people. Across all areas discussed, youth in the network and across Canada were adept at identifying problems and barriers in the mental health system and have proposed solutions for addressing these issues. If we are to better promote and communicate online mental health services for youth, as well as develop culturally appropriate services for young people, we must first understand their perspectives and needs in order to make appropriate changes to the current mental health system. There is also early evidence that suggestions that young people have for decision makers can not only be effective but are realistic and actionable, as demonstrated by the academic flexibility schools and instructors quickly adopted in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. The need to include youth voices in decision making is clear. The only way to truly address youth mental health in Canada is to include and listen to the demographic we aim to help. At Jack.org, we will continue to elevate the voices of young people in Canada so that they can have a stake in, and influence on, the very decisions that impact their mental health. Join us.