When it comes to mental health, British Columbia's top doctor says that the province is falling behind the rest of Canada.
In an annual report, B.C. health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry found that British Columbians are less likely to report positive mental health than in previous years. Of all the provinces, B.C.'s mental health was the second lowest. And over the last decade, reports of life satisfaction have fallen too.
"This is one of the measures where we are actually falling behind in Canada and the rest of the world," Henry stated in a news conference on Jan. 25.
The report follows up on the provincial government's goals listed in a public health strategy published in 2013.
At the time, nearly 69 per cent of British Columbians said their mental health was good, according to Statistics Canada.
The province's strategy hoped to raise those numbers to 80 per cent by 2023. However if its decline continues, Henry suggests the province will fail to meet that target and will plummet to almost 65 per cent instead.
Younger B.C. residents are reporting less positively
Mental health trended downward for all generations except seniors over 65. The report theorized that generation-specific stressors were to blame: millennials deal with high debt and low-paying jobs, while many Gen Xers are saddled with caregiving dependants and aging parents.
That doesn't mean older generations are in a better state. Seniors remained on the lower end of mental health compared to other demographics. As with previous years, they were less likely to report positive mental health than British Columbians under 34.
More self-reporting of bad mental health might not point to worsening provincial health, but could suggest that people are becoming more open about their struggles.
Joseph Puyat, a public health researcher, told Global News that he worried for health outcomes in a society that was less stigmatizing, but unable to access adequate care.
In a study he authored in 2016, Puyat found that only half of British Columbians with depression were able to seek adequate treatment.
Watch: Anxiety is the No. 1 mental health condition in Canada. Story continues below.
The province's budget for mental health and addiction services amounts to $1.5 billion.
Mental illness costs Canada's economy $51 billion every year, according to a 2010 paper outlining B.C.'s mental health initiatives for the next decade. Lost productivity in British Columbia accounts for nearly 13 per cent of that price tag, amounting to $6.6 billion.
Lower infant mortality, more binge drinking
There are upsides to the report's findings: the province has seen a decline in mothers smoking while pregnant and a decrease in the infant mortality rate, as well as lower cases of diabetes and hepatitis C. Sexual health awareness is improving, with the province projecting a long-term upward trend in young women getting tested for chlamydia, the province's most common STI.
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Henry told Global that B.C.'s overall health is in good shape, but that "there remain important differences in health status based on region of the province, between sexes and by age." Although the province takes the lead in some national health aspects, some metrics are on the decline. While B.C. residents still live longer than the rest of the country, the province's life expectancy has decreased for the first time in decades. Canada's health officer attributes this to opioid deaths.
Another area of concern Henry highlights is binge drinking. Particularly among young adults, excessive drinking has been on the rise in B.C. since 2003.
Henry made several recommendations to meet B.C.'s 2023 goals, such as improving access to health care for rural populations and addressing disparities between genders and age.