HAMILTON, Ontario — One in five children suffers from a mental disorder — with notable increases in depression and anxiety over the past 30 years — yet less than one-third have had contact with a mental healthcare provider, a new study finds.

Results from the 2014 Ontario Child Health Study actually mirror findings from a similar study conducted in 1983, but this latest version shows a higher proportion of children and youth with disorders have had contact with health providers and in other settings, usually via schools.

The new study also found that the patterns of prevalence among different genders and age groups have changed. Specifically, hyperactivity disorders in boys between four and 11 years old spiked from 9% to 16%. Conversely, there was a significant decrease in disruptive behavior in boys 12 to 16 years old, with numbers from 10% to 3%.

Researchers also found a significant increase in anxiety and depression in male and female youth. That total jumped from 9% in 1983 to 13% in the 2014 study.

There was also a notable rise — from 7% to 19% — in the perceptions of need for professional help with mental health disorders. However, the researchers wrote it was difficult to determine if this is tied to the growing prominence of anti-stigma and mental health awareness over the past 30 years.

In that time, the prevalence of all mental disorders increased in communities with a population of 1,000 to 100,000, not in large urban areas. There was strong evidence suggesting that poor children are more likely to have a mental disorder if their neighborhood is more violent than others.

The study also revealed that in the past year, over 8% of youth thought about suicide, and 4% reported a suicide attempt.

The study included 10,802 children and youth between the ages of four and 17 from 6,537 families in Ontario. The sample size was much larger than the study conducted in 1983, when 3,290 children from 1,869 families participated.

“This is a very robust study we feel represents the situation in Canada,” says Michael Boyle, co-principal investigator of the study, in a statement. “That means there are more than a million Canadian children and youth with a mental health problem. This needs to be addressed.”

Eight papers, each focused on a different aspect of 2014 OCHS data, were published simultaneously in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

About Ben Renner

Writer, editor, curator, and social media manager based in Denver, Colorado. View my writing at

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