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The Youth Voice Report

2021-2022

The Youth Voice Report 2021-2022 is a summary of findings from young people in the Jack.org network about the mental health challenges, successes, and needs of themselves, their peers, and their larger communities. Its intention is to highlight the mental health realities of young people in our network and assist stakeholders in understanding the challenges youth face in achieving optimal mental health and well-being.

This report provides an overview of the current state of youth mental health in Canada and discusses salient issues among the Jack.org network in terms of what causes youth to struggle with their mental health, what prevents young people from accessing mental health care and support, and what strategies and next steps can improve the current situation.

Youth mental health in Canada continues to be in a state of crisis. Approximately 1.2 million young people in Canada are impacted by mental illness, and suicide remains the leading cause of non-accidental death among young people (Mental Health Commission of Canada, n.d.).

The mental health crisis is more severe within specific populations, especially racialized, Indigenous, and 2SLGBTQ+ communities, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further magnified the economic, political, and social conditions that simultaneously cause youth to struggle and prevent them from accessing help.

One potential upside is that youth mental health struggle has received significant media coverage during the pandemic, elevating crucial conversations about mental health struggle and the lack of available, appropriate, and affordable resources and supports.

The youth mental health crisis indicates an urgent need for more accessible, available, and diverse mental health resources, as well as a pressing need to address the sources of youth mental health struggle by building and fostering communities where young people can thrive.

Key Findings

Youth Voice Report

Over the past two years, youth have had to navigate the uncertainty of the pandemic on top of their academics, employment, social lives and various other engagements, all while trying to secure their future in a precarious world.

While there is no single root cause of the youth mental health crisis, youth in the Jack.org network have consistently highlighted financial insecurity and the COVID-19 pandemic as two key influencers of poor mental health.

Financial Insecurity.

The relationship between financial stress and mental health is well documented. Those who are dealing with financial stress are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and overall poor health (McCloud, 2019). We surveyed youth in the Jack.org network about financial insecurity to better understand how they define it, and how it directly impacts their mental health and found that:

63% agreed that financial security is a personal mental health stressor.

66% worry about finding a job that will provide financial security.

Just 9% of the Jack.org network report facing immediate financial concerns, but a large percentage of the network experiences a persistent worry about their future socioeconomic security and quality of life.

Academic stress and uncertainty about the future.

Even for youth with more economic advantage, who are disproportionately represented in the Jack.org network relative to the national youth population, uncertainty around the future and worries about securing meaningful employment and quality of life are salient. Responses from the network indicate:

There is a strong correlation between worries about securing stable employment and income and internalized pressure to excel in academics.

Increasing academic stress among students is influenced by the perception that academic excellence is required in order to repay loans and live comfortably after graduation.

Richardson, T., Elliott, P., Roberts, R., & Jansen, M. (2017). A longitudinal study of financial difficulties and mental health in a national sample of British undergraduate students. Community Mental Health Journal, 53(3), 344–352. doi: 10.1007/s10597-016-0052-0

Academic stress can compound when students have to work part-time jobs to afford tuition and mitigate mounting student debt.

Challenges related to COVID-19.

The stress and anxiety youth are facing about securing their livelihoods and future has only intensified due to the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic, and its profound economic, social, and health impacts.

79% of respondents from our network agreed that the pandemic has negatively impacted their mental well-being.

63% are concerned about the long-term impact of COVID-19 on their mental health.

90% are concerned about the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on society.

At the 2020 National Jack Summit, youth delegates expressed some optimism that the pandemic would lead to positive changes in the delivery of mental health services and stronger community bonds.

Barriers to service access.

Financial stress and uncertainty have not only contributed to youth mental health struggle, but have also long been major barriers to youth accessing mental health care. 52% of survey respondents have accessed or tried to access mental health services in the past year, while 36% of that same respondent pool have encountered financial barriers when trying to access those services.

Even when cost is not an issue, long wait times and a lack of specialized services for particular diagnoses and more unique treatment needs may also prevent young people from accessing help. Such perceptions towards the availability, accessibility, and suitability of mental health services are obstacles to youth reaching out for help.

Moroz N, Moroz I, D’Angelo MS. Mental health services in Canada: Barriers and cost-effective solutions to increase access. Healthcare Management Forum. 2020;33(6):282-287.

Seeking mental health support can be difficult, overwhelming, and in some cases disheartening. To effectively serve youth, young people must feel that mental health care is available and accessible when it’s needed, and that it will effectively meet their needs so that they can achieve a state of mental health and well-being.

Youth coping strategies and informal community supports.

Even while navigating the harsh realities of the pandemic and facing many barriers to accessing high quality mental health care, youth continue to persevere and find new ways to mitigate a mental health crisis that shows no signs of slowing down. 

With that said, the ability of youth to support themselves and one another does not at all alleviate the need for urgent attention to the crisis of access to formal mental health care. As we transition back to many in-person activities, it is important to gather and understand the perspectives of youth to ensure many of the changes that have positively impacted their lives are retained post-pandemic.