Not all groups of youth in Ontario are affected the same way or to an equal extent by mental health problems, substance use, and tobacco use. Differences in health status and risk-taking are known as a health inequity. Youth who belong to groups that face social and economic exclusion tend to experience health inequities.
Below are some broad examples of groups of young people who face health inequities. This list does not include all of the groups who face health inequities. Neither does it show the many layers of young people’s identities or how these layers affect individual youth – with their unique strengths and challenges.
Data for Aboriginal youth in Ontario are currently not available. However, the school-based Adolescent Health Survey (AHS) from British Columbia indicates that Aboriginal youth experience many health inequities. Aboriginal youth reported emotional distress and thinking about suicide at an alarmingly high level compared with their non-Aboriginal peers. More Aboriginal youth reported drinking alcohol compared with their non-Aboriginal peers (67% vs. 57%). One-third of Aboriginal youth (32%) reported having used psilocybin mushrooms, hallucinogens, prescription pills without a doctor’s consent, cocaine, inhalants, amphetamines, heroin, or steroids. While tobacco use among Aboriginal youth had declined, fewer reported never having smoked a cigarette than their non-Aboriginal peers (61% vs. 74%).
The BC AHS highlights many health inequities that lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) youth face compared with their heterosexual peers. LGB youth were more likely than non-LGB youth, for example, to have used alcohol or other substances. They were more likely to report emotional stress, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts. Toronto Teen Survey suggests that similar trends are likely in Ontario. One-quarter of the LGBTQ youth in the Toronto study reported problems with drugs or alcohol; this is more than six times the rate among heterosexual youth.
In a community-based research project with newcomer youth, Access Alliance Community Health Centre found that youth who have recently immigrated to Canada experience higher psychological distress than their peers. They report struggling with racism and discrimination, isolation, new customs and process, and family stress related to income security.
Youth in rural and remote communities:
The findings from the 2011 OSDUHS indicates youth in rural and remote communities in Northern Ontario are more likely than youth in Ontario as a whole to smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, and use cannabis, cocaine, and energy drinks. They are also more likely to have engaged in binge drinking. More research is needed to understand health inequities affecting youth in rural and remote communities across Ontario.
Street-involved youth have high rates of emotional distress and substance use. In a recent study from Toronto on homeless and street-involved youth carried out by the Shout Clinic and Wellesley Institute with youth aged 16 to 24, only 35% of the youth rated their mental and emotional health as excellent or good. Many of the 100 youth in this study also reported using drugs in the past six months: 71 had used crack, 51 had used methamphetamine, 53 had used opiates that were not medically prescribed, and 33 had used injection drugs. When asked why they use substances, many of their reasons related to mental health, including coping, dependence, and escape.