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Improving Youth Mental Health a Priority for Society and the Economy

Ottawa, November 28, 2017—Close to two million working Canadians have unmet mental health care needs that prevent them from performing at their highest potential. Among them, young Canadians living with depression and/or anxiety represent the highest cost to the Canadian economy in lost productivity. New research by The Conference Board of Canada suggests that reducing the barriers for young adults seeking treatment and support for mental illness could lead to significant long-term benefits.

“Mental illness can affect anyone, regardless of age. Canada must ensure its mental health agenda includes focused actions to address the mental health of all working Canadians, especially its youth who will be the workforce of tomorrow,” said Louis Thériault, Vice-President, Industry Strategy and Public Policy, The Conference Board of Canada. “Canadian youth have more working years ahead of them and addressing mental illness earlier in life can improve their long-term mental health. This needs to be a priority for both our economy and society.”


  • Focusing mental health programming on youth could lead to significant economic benefits.
  • Younger workers may experience more precarious employment where they may have limited or no access to workplace benefits coverage.
  • With optimal treatment and support, a young working Canadian aged 15 to 24 living with depression could increase their productivity by about $29,000 over their entire working life.

Mental illness can have a significant impact on workplace performance, contributing to absenteeism and presenteeism (coming to work while sick and consequently, working under suboptimal conditions). Previous Conference Board research estimated that if all employed Canadians living with depression received optimal treatment, over 1.2 million people could be working full-time and fully functional, contributing an additional $32.3 billion annually to the Canadian economy. Similarly, if all those living with anxiety received optimal treatment, an additional 545,000 Canadians who were previously unable to work would be able to enter the workforce, adding approximately $17.3 billion a year to the economy.

Healthy Brains at Work: Creating the Conditions for Healthy Brains in the Workplace examines the segments of Canada’s working population that would benefit most from improved mental illness treatment. For a single year, the 45–64 age group represents the highest economic cost, due to their higher income and productivity levels. Over the long-term, however, it is the youngest cohort that has the largest economic impact as the reduced level of productivity persists for a much longer period if they have not recovered from their mental health issue.

The average worker in the 15–24 age group has approximately 40–45 years of work life remaining and their productivity would be improved by about $29,000 over their entire working life if they had access to optimal treatment and support. This compares with $23,500 in productivity gains for a worker aged 25–44, and a $9,500 gain for those 45–64. For anxiety, the productivity gain for a worker aged 15–24 would be about $16,200 higher over their entire working life, compared with $14,200 for the 25–44 age group and $6,200 for those aged 45-64.

Currently, young Canadians between the ages of 15 and 24 are the most likely to have experienced mood disorders or major depressive episodes within the past year. Younger workers may experience more precarious employment (such as part-time or temporary work) where they may have limited or no access to workplace benefits coverage.

As youth transition into adulthood and enter the workforce, there are many touchpoints where mental health can be addressed. Understanding their needs, preferences, and the effectiveness of supports is essential, as they likely differ from other age cohorts. The briefing offers the following considerations:

  • Access to mental health supports at an early age is critical.
  • Supports during key life transition points, such as moving from high school to college or university, are needed.
  • Address gaps for those in precarious employment.
  • Ensure the supports provided are effective.

Healthy Brains at Work: Creating the Conditions for Healthy Brains in the Workplace is the last briefing of a four-part series that explores the importance of addressing mental health and mental illness in Canadian workplaces.

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