December 14, 2006 09:23 ET

First Canada-wide study of teen depression & suicidality

Research in the area understudied

Attention: Assignment Editor, Health/Medical Editor, News Editor, Science Editor, Government/Political Affairs Editor TORONTO, ONTARIO, MEDIA RELEASE--(CCNMatthews - Dec. 14, 2006) - For the first time, researchers have examined depression and suicide-related events in teens aged 15 to 18 nation-wide, in an effort to help policymakers identify and address the mental health needs of Canadian adolescents.

Results from their new study indicate that depression and suicidality - the ideation, self-harm, or actual suicide attempt - are common in adolescents and the odds of suicidality increased with age, being female, having a low income, and living in regions such as British Columbia.

"Until now, there is surprisingly little known about adolescent depression and suicidality in Canada," says Dr. Amy Cheung, principal investigator of the study and a youth psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. To date, no study had specifically examined the national rates of depression and suicidality in adolescents aged 15 to 18 in Canada, and as a result, no comparison can be made regarding national rate changes over the last decade. The only research that exists in this area, particularly in suicidality, are specific to certain regions such as Ontario and British Columbia.

"Without current rates and information on regional differences, it is difficult to develop effective policies," says Dr. Cheung, also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry within the Faculty of Medicine at University of Toronto. "Ongoing research and monitoring is needed to understand these differences in order to develop national, regional and local prevention strategies and programs."

Study findings showed the lifetime prevalence rate for major depressive disorder (MDD) was 7.6 per cent, and the lifetime prevalence rate for suicidality was 13.5 per cent. Gender, region, and socioeconomic disparities were also examined and found to be important differentiating factors. Overall, females had significantly higher odds of having major depression and suicidality, however, higher rates of completed suicides in males highlights the need to develop services targeted towards them. The odds of MDD were significantly lower for adolescents in the Maritimes, however the regional figures were not so drastically different for suicidality, as the rate in the Maritimes was approximately 2.4 per cent less than the national average. A number of reasons have been given for regional differences including hereditary traits, the social acceptance of suicide, and differences in the provinces' health care systems.

"Examining and understanding these influencing factors and their differences may help policy makers and clinicians to better target and develop mental health services and provisions for adolescents in order to intervene and prevent future difficulties," says Dr. Cheung. "By doing this, we are decreasing barriers to accessing these services by those most at risk."

Published in Healthcare Policy, the study examined depression and suicidality in youth 15 to 18 years of age. Individuals aged 15 or older were randomly selected from sample households, and structured interviews were conducted with individuals from all provinces and territories to screen for depression. The total sample size was 38,500, with a sample size of 2866 for adolescents aged 15 to 18. Survey respondents who met the criteria had experienced two or more weeks of depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure and at least five other symptoms associated with depression that led to significant distress or impairment in functioning.

Since suicidality is frequently a consequence of untreated depression, it is noteworthy that rates of suicidality in Canada are comparable to the U.S. in spite of the universal health insurance coverage that gives Canadians access to needed healthcare. This raises questions about the barriers to access to mental health services and the effectiveness of the Canadian health care system in addressing the mental health needs of its adolescents.

Depression is a typically recurrent disorder that often begins in adolescence and has serious morbidity and mortality. One of the most significant consequences of depression is suicide. More than 50 per cent of adolescents who complete suicide have had a form of depression.

Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre is transforming health care through the dedication of its more than 10,000 staff, physicians and volunteers who provide compassionate and innovative patient focused care. An internationally recognized leader in academic research and education and an affiliation with the University of Toronto distinguishes Sunnybrook as one of Canada's premier health sciences centres. Sunnybrook specializes in caring for newborns, adults and the elderly, treating and preventing cancer, neurological and psychiatric disorders, cardiovascular disease, orthopaedic and arthritic conditions and traumatic injuries.

Media contact:
Nadia Norcia Radovini
416.480.4040 /For further information: IN: HEALTH

Contact Information

  • Nadia Norcia Radovini, Communications Advisor, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre
    Primary Phone: 416-480-4040