The Conference Board of Canada and Children’s Healthcare Canada have released a second report in its three-part research series, entitled The Health and Economic Imperative for Investing in Children’s Healthcare. The second report, Nurturing Minds for Secure Futures, says long delays in providing access to child and youth mental health services conservatively costs Canada $4-billion annually. “This figure reflects expenses to publicly funded health systems, the education sector, justice systems as well as forgone employment income of parents and caregivers,” they write.

The report states that 1.6 million children and youth in Canada have a diagnosis of anxiety or depression, an underestimate, they say, given the challenges associated with accessing mental health services. “Without timely investments, the Conference Board of Canada projects the lifetime costs of children experiencing anxiety and/or depression at the age of 10 could approach a staggering $1-trillion,” they state. The report itself goes on to say this figure is the lifetime cost of just one cohort of children with onset symptoms at the age of 10.

In Canada, they add, 70 per cent of mental health issues begin before the age of 18. “Investment in children’s mental health today, with a focus on accessible and inclusive programming for vulnerable populations, can nurture minds and secure futures for Canadian children and youth and save $28-billion annually.” 

Recommendations in the report include the development and funding of a pan-Canadian child health strategy with mental health identified as a key pillar. They ask for dedication of resources to programs that cater to vulnerable populations, investment in the mental health workforces serving children and youth and the establishment of a national data strategy to foster accountability.

In 2019, the prevalence of diagnosed anxiety disorders and depression was approximately 3.5 per cent of the population between five and 17 years of age. “The risk of developing anxiety and depression among children and youth rose during the pandemic,” they note.