We live in a society under stress and Statistics Canada has the numbers to prove it.
Almost one in six adult Canadians reported needing mental health care last year, according to a new report Wednesday from StatsCan. Not all received it.
The agency's release on mental health from its Canadian Community Health Survey found 2.8 million people, roughly 10 per cent of Canadians aged 15 and older, reported symptoms consistent with one of six mental or substance use-related disorders in 2012.
The disorders included major depressive episodes, bipolar disorder, generalized anxiety and abuse of alcohol or drugs.
The survey found 17 per cent of Canadians in the 15-and-older age bracket — about 4.9 million people — felt they needed mental health care last year. But only two thirds had their needs met, while another 21 per cent received some care but felt they needed more and 12 per cent said they got no care.
About three quarters said they personal circumstances, such as being too busy, accounted for the lack of care, but one in five pointed to problems with their health care systems, such as the unavailability of treatment, the survey said.
The survey included generalized anxiety disorder for the first time, described as a pattern of frequent, persistent worry and excessive anxiety about several events or activities. Some 2.6 per cent of Canadians reported symptoms.
Another 4.4 per cent seem to be self-medicating, reporting what the survey describes as a "substance-abuse disorder." Booze is the biggest factor, at 3.2 per cent, followed by pot abuse or dependence at 1.3 per cent and other drugs at 0.7 per cent.
An expert suggested the survey results are only the tip of the iceberg. Dr. Ian Dawe, chief physician at Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health, told CBC News the report misses many illnesses, such as schizophrenia and panic disorders. Patients often say they have little trouble getting prescription medications but counselling is harder to find, he said.
"This study really speaks to unmet needs outside of the medication realm and I think that's very consistent with what we're hearing," he said, adding the barriers include the cost of therapy when it's outside the doctor's office and the patient's lack of private insurance or coverage through their employer.
The survey also found four in 10 people with unmet or partially met need for treatment said they preferred to manage things on their own, CBC News noted.
The reason behind that choice may lie in the stigma still associated with mental health problems, Camille Quenneville, chief executive of the Canadian Mental Health Association's Ontario division, told CBC News.
"We know today in Canada, 500,000 people didn't go to work because they're struggling with their mental health," she said.
"So I think if employers alone stepped up and wanted to work and help those in their workplace with their mental health issues and recognize the existing need that we know is there, I think we would make tremendous strides."
The cost of not obtaining treatment for whatever reason can be extreme.
Vancouver's police and mayor warned last week that the city is facing a crisis as individuals wrestling with mental disorders or substance-abuse problems encounter police in confrontations that sometimes end violently. The city has also experienced a spate of random street attacks by mentally disturbed people.
“The police are becoming the first point of contact for those who are severely mentally ill and that is wrong," police chief Jim Chu said, according to the Vancouver Sun. "These people require health care, support and medical treatment, not the justice system.”
Mental health factors are also being looked at in the recent death of teenage Syrian immigrant Sammy Yatim, gunned down by police on a Toronto streetcar after brandishing a small knife.
Toronto police were criticized for not trying to de-escalate the situation. Instead, one officer riddled the agitated 18-year-old with nine shots, including several after he fell, despite the fact the streetcar had emptied out and Yatim did not appear to be acting aggressively towards officers.
One of the saddest recent cases involves Allyson McConnell, a rural Alberta resident who drowned her two young sons in the bathtub in 2010 before trying unsuccessfully to kill herself by jumping off a highway overpass.
Though charged with second-degree murder, she was convicted of manslaughter after the defence argued she suffered from depression and her drinking and use of sleeping pills meant she could not have formed the needed intent to sustain a murder conviction.
McConnell, who was estranged from her husband, was sentenced to six years in a psychiatric hospital but received two-for-one credit for time spent in custody and was released earlier this year.
The Crown launched an appeal but couldn't stop Canada Border Services Agency from deporting McConnell back to her native Australia where, according to CBC News, she apparently committed suicide by jumping off a bridge sometime Tuesday or Wednesday.
Alberta Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk summed up the larger issue succinctly in this tweet:
.@calgaryherald Mental health illness makes victims of all. Sad end to what already was a tragedy...
— Thomas Lukaszuk (@LukaszukMLA) September 18, 2013