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We started from the bottom...and we’re still here?

The status of teen mental health and teen suicide in Canada today

By Ayra Kathuria, 16, UNICEF Canada Co-op Student

“It’s one thing to know that suicide is one of the leading causes of death, but it’s another to see these types of rankings come out. It really just puts into perspective the need for immediate solutions,” says Sarah Mughal, the Director for Programs and Evaluation at Jack.org, a charity focused on youth engagement and leadership in mental health, as well as the encouragement of young people to take care of themselves and their peers.

Sarah is referring to Canada’s ranking on the indicators of teen mental health and teen suicide, as outlined in UNICEF Canada’s new report, Oh Canada! Our kids deserve better, the Canadian Companion to UNICEF’s global Report Card 14: Building the Future: Children and Sustainable Development Goals in Rich Countries. This year’s report was released on June 15, 2017.

Group of children

Canada currently ranks 14th out of the 41 richest countries for teen mental health and a shocking 31st out of 41 for teen suicide. Why do we rank so low you may ask? That’s the question experts across the country are working to address each day. “Mental health is such a complex subject, it encompasses so much. Do you feel well? Do you feel in control? Do you feel safe and accepted? It’s such a challenging conversation to have,” responds Mughal when asked this exact question.

Report Card 14 finds that in general, boys are more likely to die by suicide than girls-three times more likely on average. Girls however, attempt suicide twice as often as boys-though they generally choose methods than are less lethal. Suicide, as discussed in the report, is defined as the suicide rate for teenagers aged 15-19.

Girl sitting

“We see that the transition between high school and post-secondary education is a very difficult time; you lose access to pediatric care, your sense of community, move out, and adopt a new identity, home and network. There’s also a change in your brain science, and an increase in overall responsibility,” explains Sarah. Mental illness is known to affect one in five  Canadians, however it’s critical to understand that all us, five in five, have mental health. Adolescent youth are the most vulnerable age group in regards to developing a mental illness, and thus it’s all of our responsibility to use the data we have to ensure they have a smooth transition between childhood and adulthood.

Although mental health is difficult to quantify, there are some very evident red flags that contribute to Canada’s high and stagnant suicide rates. “Our system is currently fractured, we need more social awareness and better services-especially to vulnerable populations such as the LGBTQ community and indigenous groups,” proposes Mughal, when asked what we can do to better this issue. There needs to be a collaborative effort among policy makers, education boards, and youth to properly address this problem. And most importantly, young people should be at the centre of the conversation.

Whether you’re in disbelief over our rankings or merely numb to these tragedies, we must all wake up and realize that if the second-leading cause of death among our youth is them taking their own lives, Canada needs to drastically change its ways.

Canada’s children need - and deserve better.

UNICEF Canada is taking action to help improve the well-being of children and youth in Canada through its new initiative launching this fall, One Youth. One Youth will elevate the well-being of children and youth to a higher national priority and work to make Canada #1 on the UNICEF Index of Child well-being by 2030. To learn more and sign up for email updates on how UNICEF is working to improve the lives of kids in Canada, go here.

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