Almost half of Ontario youth miss school because of anxiety, study suggests.

At five years old, Shannon Nagy told her mother she wanted to die. In Grade 6, she missed almost the entire school year because more often than not, she couldn’t get out of bed.

Nagy, now 20, was diagnosed with anxiety, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and borderline personality disorder and was never able to finish high school. She spent most of her childhood immersed in a mental health care system that she said “did more harm than good.”

Her struggle to get help and the impact that struggle had on her education is a trend captured in a new survey commissioned by Children’s Mental Health Ontario, released Tuesday.

It found of the 18- to 34-year-olds surveyed across the province:

  • 46 per cent had missed school due to issues related to anxiety.
  • 40 per cent had sought mental health help.
  • Of those, 50 per cent found the experience of getting help challenging.
  • 42 per cent did not get the help they needed or are still waiting.

Parents are also impacted when their child has to wait as long as 18 months for mental health care, said Kimberly Moran, CEO of CMHO, the association that represents Ontario’s publicly funded Mental Health Centres and advocates for government policies and programs.

“Parents miss work and certainly myself as a parent, I have to take time to look after my daughter,” Moran said.

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and Ministry of Children and Youth Services did not respond to requests from the Star for comment, with Monday being a holiday.

The study, conducted by research firm Ipsos, surveyed 806 people in October and suggests that a quarter of parents have had to miss work to care for their child due to issues related to anxiety.

When her 11-year-old daughter tried to die by suicide while on a year-long wait list for mental health care, Moran took a four-month leave of absence and then worked part-time. Six years later, she still takes about 10 per cent of the year off to help her daughter.

Half of the parents surveyed found getting their child mental health help was challenging because wait times are long, they don’t know where to go, or service providers don’t offer what their child needs, don’t exist in their community, are too far away or aren’t available at convenient times.

Anxiety is one of the “big front-runners” when it comes to mental illness in youth, said Lydia Sai-Chew, CEO of Skylark Children, Youth and Families, which offers free counselling and mental health services in Toronto. Wait times at Skylark for in-patient programs can be up to six months.

“The difficulty with wait times is that the youth gets more stressed, but so does the family,” Sai-Chew said. “Anxieties build up. They don’t have the strategies and it just gets worse.”

For 13 years, Michele Sparling of Oakville has juggled owning a business and taking care of her son who was diagnosed with anxiety and depression when he was 10 years old.

“If your child is home from school, you’re not leaving them alone,” Sparling said. “You’re worried when you have to step out for a moment. When a fire truck goes through your neighbourhood, you think ‘not my kid, not my kid.’

“That worry is constant.”

She said her family struggled to get her son the help he needed. In between driving him to and from appointments in Toronto, she got used to telling clients she might have to end a meeting at a moment’s notice if a crisis occurred. She watched as her son had to miss school, and continues to care for him now as he struggles with mental illness in university.

“This is not just about this one person, it’s about the bigger picture, the lost potential,” Sparling said. “I think we’re doing young people such a disservice.”

CMHO is asking the province to invest $125 million in community-based mental health centres, staffing and services for children and youth.

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Where To Get Help.

The holidays can be a tough time for many individuals struggling with various forms of mental illness.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide PreventionDepression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868  all offer ways for getting help if you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental health issues.

Don’t hold back and be afraid to reach out to get support.


Enzyme Research Provides a New Picture of Depression.

Despite the fact that more than four percent of the world’s population suffer from depression, and even though approximately 1,500 individuals commit suicide each year in Sweden, the understanding of the pathophysiology of depression remains unclear and only a few new discoveries of mechanisms behind it have been made in recent years. New approved pharmacological interventions are mainly absent, despite intensive research on the subject.

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet have characterized the role of the enzyme CYP2C19 in depression and functional and morphological changes in the brain. The enzyme is responsible for the metabolism of many neuroactive compounds, including antidepressants, and is located in the fetal brain and adult liver.

“We previously found that the CYP2C19 gene is expressed not only in the liver, but also in fetal brain. We described that transgenic mice that overexpress the human CYP2C19 in fetal life, in adult life have smaller hippocampus as well as an altered composition of nerve cells in the hippocampus and suffer from a higher level of anxiety- and depression-like behavior as compared to the wild type mice,” says Magnus Ingelman-Sundberg, who has been leader of the study together with Marin Jukic.

Altered structure and function of the hippocampus was the starting point 

The hippocampus is a central part of the brain for control of emotions and stress, and the finding of altered structure and function of the hippocampus following overexpression of CYP2C19 was in the starting point for the new study. The researchers now have examined to what extent these findings in mice can be extrapolated to humans.

Such analysis was facilitated by the fact that four percent of the population lacks the CYP2C19 enzyme, while thirty percent have increased expression of the same enzyme. By analysis of MRI-based measurements of the hippocampal volume and by analyzing epidemiological statistics for suicide as well as by evaluating tests of depressive mood from thousands of people, researchers found that the absence of the enzyme was associated with a larger volume of the hippocampus.

“These persons showed a lesser degree of depressed mode. Conversely, we found that increased activity of CYP2C19 was associated with higher suicidal incidences in depressed patients,” Marin Jukic says.

The results, presented in the international publication Molecular Psychiatry, show that the propensity for depression and hippocampal function in part is programmed in fetal life. Fetuses lacking CYP2C19 enzyme have a lower risk of depression and have larger hippocampi in adulthood.

“These findings form the basis for the identification of new biomarkers for depressive phenotypes and strengthen the fact that our CYP2C19 depression mice model can be used to understand new mechanisms for the basis of depression and for preclinical screening of new drug candidates for anti-depressant effect, in particular for those that affect the serotonergic neurotransmission,” Magnus Ingelman-Sundberg concludes.

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This paragraph from the article below is such a common theme with many young people that have opened up to loved ones:

“I remember sitting at the kitchen table speaking with my parents about how I felt really depressed. I was in my early twenties and they clearly just didn’t understand. I know that it’s not that they didn’t care, but their response was something like, “Renee, you have a great life…nothing to be depressed about.” Perhaps they were under the false impression that depression could just be turned on and off or that people used the idea of depression as an excuse or a crutch.”

It’s important to be aware that it’s all about education, we need to educate people to become aware of the symptoms of mental illness. We need to educate people to be better equipped to help those with mental illness. But most of all we as a collective group need to erase the stigma associated with those battling from mental illness, so they never have to feel ashamed or misunderstood by those they are reaching out to.

Remember, nobody should ever feel like they are alone and feel that the only option to get out of their misery is to end their life. For those of you on twitter, from December 1-25, follow the hashtag “#NotAlone”, and retweet in hopes that it will save a few lives.

– M


As news broke that the missing Ohio State football player’s body had been found, I was coincidentally working on writing this article on depression and suicide prevention.

A few months ago, my dear friend Sam had the terrible misfortune of losing his son to suicide.

I originally met Sam  on Twitter through a hashtag  where people shared content related to everything social media, but our families quickly became friends in real life too.  A few of my digital friends were trying to come up with something special we could do for Sam (and his family) when we realized that if we used our collective social media influence, we could do something really meaningful for not only Sam, but for other families managing similar loss. We decided to curate content from December 1-25 on depression and suicide awareness. We are using the hashtag #NotAlone, Please watch and share my tweets and our posts as it’s our hope that through our efforts we might be able to save a few lives.

“It is estimated that about 10 to 15 percent of children/teens are depressed at any given time. Research indicates that one of every four adolescents will have an episode of major depression during high school with the average age of onset being 14 years!” -PsycheCentral

Kosta Karageorge, the Ohio State football player, was found near campus, with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. According to the online reports, his mother mentioned that Kosta had suffered from several concussion and had been extremely confused. She received a text from him that read, “I am sorry if I am an embarrassment.”

According to the website, researchers found that there is a very string association existed between concussions and clinical depression. “The findings significantly underscore the importance of understanding and evaluating the potential neurological consequences of recurrent mild traumatic brain injuries,” said co-author Dr. Bailes. “Not only do concussions and other head injuries in early adulthood significantly raise the risk of depression decades later, but concussions are reported to have a permanent effect on thinking and memory skills later in life.”

As parents, it’s impossible to have answers to everything and we can’t blame ourselves when we don’t see signs we didn’t know we should be looking for. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, there may be an increase in suicides, in 2012 (the last time the study was done) 40,600 suicides were reported, making suicide the 10th leading cause of death for Americans. In the past, suicide was considered a taboo as an act against God, people were embarrassed to discuss let alone try to understand why.

Depression – not in my family…

As a child, I grew up having a relative (my father’s sister) who suffered from mental illness. She was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic / manic-depressive and has always struggled to live outside of institutions. There is still so little that we truly know about mental illness, which is likely why the stigma of depression continues.

I remember sitting at the kitchen table speaking with my parents about how I felt really depressed. I was in my early twenties and they clearly just didn’t understand. I know that it’s not that they didn’t care, but their response was something like, “Renee, you have a great life…nothing to be depressed about.” Perhaps they were under the false impression that depression could just be turned on and off or that people used the idea of depression as an excuse or a crutch. I remember my father saying, “what are you, like Aunt Roseanne?” that comment stung for a long time. For them, the idea of having a child who was depressed was embarrassing. They didn’t know what we know…it’s about education.

What can we do?

If you’ve never felt depressed then it’s hard to imagine the blanket of sadness that envelopes you when you suffer from depression. It can be a sunny, beautiful day but depression does not discriminate; it just happens and it’s awful. It’s like a heavy weight of sadness, a dark glaze overshadowing even the brightest moments. What we need to do is work on being aware by recognizing the signs and how to help. We need to accept that nobody’s perfect,  embrace the people we love when they need us…and not pass judgement. Be honest and open.

Be aware of the signs of depression in teens (from

  • Madness or hopelessness
  • Irritability, anger, or hostility
  • Tearfulness or frequent crying
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Thoughts of death or suicide