VANCOUVER — British Columbians rate their mental health as nearly the lowest in the country despite being more physically active, eating more fruits and vegetables, and having generally healthier lifestyles, the province's top doctor says.
Dr. Bonnie Henry issued a report Friday on the health of British Columbians and said more people are experiencing mental health woes even though the province has the highest life expectancy in the country.
"It's concerning to me that the percentage of British Columbians who report positive mental health has gone down," Henry told a news conference. "This is one of the measures where we were are actually falling behind in Canada and the rest of the world."
Her report is based on performance measures toward seven goals the Health Ministry set in 2013 and are expected to be met by 2023.
Some of the goals are related to environmental and mental health as well as prevention of harm to children from substances including the use of alcohol and cannabis before age 15.
Henry said that while the percentage of youth who started drinking and using pot at that age has dropped, that's not the case for young adults.
"Hazardous drinking, so binge drinking, has gone up in young women and young men of reproductive age," she said.
Poverty, lack of early childhood education and low income are indicators of poor health, Henry said, adding early childhood development is an issue in some urban areas.
"This is something we need to understand more. We need to understand how we can support families and support young children."
Climate change has an impact on health and that has particularly been the case from wildfire smoke during the last couple of years.
She said the province must do a better job of assessing other impacts of climate change as well as putting more funding into health promotion programs that should be targeted to reverse worsening trends.
The opioid crisis has affected people from all sectors of society but particularly young men, who make up nearly 80 per cent of overdose deaths in the province, although data in her report is limited to the end of 2015.
Henry said she is writing a report related to the need for a safer supply of drugs, decriminalization and the need for more social supports for people struggling with addiction.
She made seven recommendations, including a greater focus on injury prevention in rural and remote areas, developing a more meaningful public health surveillance system and increasing support for pregnant and postpartum women and families.