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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Is mental health in Canada getting better or worse?

There is reason to hope that mental health might be improving. Most of the common mental illnesses are treatable and diminishing stigma and acceptance of these issues means that more people are seeking treatment. Ideally, this would result in declining prevalence. In Canada, we have some interesting sources of data to examine these questions since several national surveys that have collected data using the same questions since 1994, right up to the current time. Looking at these measures, we were recently disappointed to see that mental health in the population was not improving, at least not when measured using items that rate symptoms. However, there are more people that report being diagnosed with a mood disorder and treatment with antidepressants has continued to increase. An interesting result is that a diminishing proportion of Canadians report that their lives are extremely stressful - this probably means that they are becoming more likely to interpret stress-related symptoms such as depression and anxiety as symptoms of an illness rather than just reactions to life problems. This probably reflects increasing mental health literacy in the population. An abstract for this paper may be found here.

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