FHS researcher Dr. Charlotte Waddell is one of the co-investigators of a major study measuring the prevalence of childhood mental disorders.

New study finds one in five children have mental health issues

April 23, 2019
Dr. Charlotte Waddell

A new Canadian study was released last week measuring the prevalence of childhood mental disorders, service use, changes in disorders over time, and the role of social determinants. The Ontario Child Health Study (OCHS) was led by Michael Boyle and Kathy Georgiades at McMaster University, with FHS researcher Dr. Charlotte Waddell as a co-investigator. The study included more than 10,000 Ontario children, but findings apply across Canada including in British Columbia.

In response to findings that high rates of childhood mental disorders are coupled with low service reach, Dr. Waddell noted that a big part of the problem is that care is often provided by a patchwork of organizations and most provinces do not provide effective prevention programs.

"For far too long, Canadians have tolerated an inadequate patchwork of services—which the public may be unaware of until children develop problems and families try to get help." says Dr. Waddell.

She also notes under-funding as children's mental health services are not tied to legislated mandates or required funding, in turn resulting in a continuous erosion of budgets. 

See more information below and in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry and Children's Health Policy Centre website. 

2014 Ontario Child Health Study Findings: Policy Implications for Canada

  • OCHS is a report card on children’s mental health in Canada, showing we need to do better.
  • The main findings are:
    1) prevalence of childhood mental disorders is high, affecting one in five children;
    2) service reach is low;
    3) needs have increased over the past 30 years; and
    4) avoidable childhood adversities such as income disparities and violence need to be addressed.
  • Governance of children’s mental health services often spans public health, healthcare, schools, early childhood education and children’s mental health services — making central expert leadership and planning crucial for improving children’s mental health.
  • Next steps include:
    1) ensuring coherent policy leadership;
    2) making and sustaining comprehensive children’s mental health plans that address both prevention and treatment;
    3) reaching all children with mental disorders with effective and innovative service approaches;
    4) addressing avoidable childhood adversities; and
    5) ensuring adequate and dedicated children’s mental health budgets.

    Author: Charlotte Waddell, University Professor, Children’s Health Policy Centre, Faculty of Health Sciences, SFU

Six-Month Prevalence of Mental Disorders and Service Contacts among Children and Youth in Ontario: Evidence from the 2014 Ontario Child Health Study

  • 18–22% of children aged 4–11 years had at least one mental disorder. Behaviour disorders were the most common in younger children and anxiety disorders most common in older children; for those with disorders, only 26–34% had had contact with a mental health provider; however, 60% received help in other settings, most often schools.

    Author: Kathy Georgiades, Associate Professor, Offord Centre, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University

Changes in the Prevalence of Child and Youth Mental Disorders and Perceived Need for Professional Help between 1983 and 2014: Evidence from the Ontario Child Health Study

  • The perceived need for professional help increased from 7% to 19% for 4–16-year-olds over the past 30 years — with increases in attention-deficit for younger boys and in depression and anxiety for older boys and girls, but decreases in conduct disorder for older boys and girls.

     Jinette Comeau, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Western University

Poverty, Neighbourhood Antisocial Behaviour and Child Mental Health Problems: Findings from the 2014 Ontario Child Health Study

  • When children experience high levels of neighbourhood antisocial behaviour, those living below the poverty line are at much higher risk for behavioural problems; these children are also at higher risk for emotional and behavioural problems when they live in areas with greater socioeconomic inequities.

    Author: Michael Boyle, Professor Emeritus, McMaster University

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