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New report measures economic loss of youth mental illness

Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS

A new report suggests parents who miss work to help children suffering from anxiety cost the Ontario economy $421 million a year.

The report, released Wednesday by Children’s Mental Health Ontario, looked at data collected in 2017.

“That’s a huge loss to the economy,” said Kim Moran, the CEO of the association representing Ontario’s publicly-funded child and youth mental health centres. “That’s a huge impact on families that are already struggling in Ontario.”

The analysis, conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto’s Canadian Centre for Health Economics, springs from work done by CMHO in 2017 that showed that one in four parents in the province reported missing work to care for a child with anxiety issues.

The latest report takes that data and quantifies its cost to the province’s economy.

Adrian Rohit Dass, a University of Toronto researcher who co-authored the report, called the findings significant and said he hopes they prompt more study.

“The cost of care doesn’t end in the doctor’s office or the hospital,” he said. “Our study shows that there are significant costs to families that should be considered as well. This is just one year.”

Moran said the study’s findings could understate the depth of the problem because they only capture children who struggle with anxiety and not a number of other mental health issues.

“We’ve been sounding the alarm for a number of years,” she said. “This is just one other way of showing to the government that this is really something that’s impacting families.”

Researchers calculated the amount of productivity losses to the economy by taking the number of people estimated to have missed work to care for their children, applying the average wage of full-time workers in the province and adding in the average time taken off in the year to give care.

Moran said the statistics also underscore the need to hire more clinical staff across the province to provide immediate mental health care and cut long wait lists.

“We need to hire people who can deliver evidence-based therapy just as soon as kids need it,” she said.

Premier Doug Ford has promised to spend $1.9 billion on mental health care over the next decade which would include bolstering addictions and housing supports across the province. He has also said the money will help cut wait times for youth who need treatment.