Young people stressed by uncertain economy, survey finds

Dana Flavelle, Toronto Star

Economic uncertainty, underemployment and other financial concerns are taking a toll on young Canadians’ mental health, a survey for Sun Life Financial Canada found.

A surprising 90 per cent of people between 18 and 24 years of age feel excessive stress compared to 72 per cent of all adult Canadians, according to the Sun Life Canadian health Index study.

Kevin Dougherty, president of Sun Life Financial Canada, found the statistic “surprising” saying “I think it points to what’s going on in the economy and the pressures on young people today.”

The study confirms what Sun Life is seeing in its long-term disability business, he said. Some 40 per cent of claims by young people are related to mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. That’s up 10 per cent since the start of the recession

The Toronto-based company is the largest provider of employee benefit programs in Canada.

Canada’s economic employment landscape is changing with 30 per cent of people saying they are underemployed or underutilized, the study by Ipsos Reid noted.

Underemployment was highest among young Canadians, with nearly 40 per cent in that age group saying they felt their skills or abilities were not being fully utilized, the study released Monday found.

The economic stress seems to be coming both from cyclical conditions, such as the recent recession of 2008-09, as well as longer-term structural changes due to globalization and outsourcing, Dougherty said in a telephone interview.

Finances and work life were the top two sources of anxiety for all Canadians, according to the survey found.

Other top issues included personal relationships and health, the study said.

“Personal finances are more challenging for young people, especially in places like Toronto,” Dougherty said. “And, of course, for young people, before they settle down, relationships can be a great source of stress.”

Young people are twice as likely to be unemployed as the labour force as a whole. The unemployment rate for 18 to 24 year olds is 15.2 per cent, compared to 7.4 per cent for all adults, according to Statistics Canada.

“It is more difficult for young Canadians to find permanent full-time jobs that suit their skills and area of study,” noted Louis Theriault, director, health economics at the Conference Board of Canada.

“Recent job creation has been dominated by part-time work, which has become a trend in Canada. This impacts younger workers in particular and contributes to their higher stress level,” Theriault said.

Full employment was closely related to feelings of well-being, the study found. Seventy-five per cent of Canadians working full-time rate their emotional health as very good or excellent, compared to just two-thirds of part-time workers and half of the unemployed.

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