What's up with young adults in New Brunswick?
Decreasing perception of mental health worrisome
You have to be somewhat careful with surveys - particularly those dealing with perception (i.e. how are you feeling?). But the trend line around self-reported mental health in New Brunswick is concerning because it is starting to decouple from the rest of the country. In 2015, the share of 18-34 year olds saying their mental health was very good or excellent was very good or excellent was similar to the national level (72% vs. 72.5%). The share saying their mental health was fair or poor was less than eight percent.
By 2020, the share in NB with very good or excellent mental health had dropped to less than half - only 46% compared to 59% across the country. A few percentage points of this might be related to COVID-19 but the downward trend was well in motion before the pandemic.
Young people are also reporting more life stress in New Brunswick. The share reporting most days quite a bit or extremely stressful rose from 14.5% in 2017 to 26.4% in 2020. The national figure remained at the same level over the same period, 23%.
What’s up with the 18-34 year olds in New Brunswick? We know there are national and international influences - social media, concern over climate change, concern over social justice, etc. but that doesn’t explain the rapid acceleration in New Brunswick relative to the country overall.
On most other measures, the kids are alright, as they say. The share overweight or obese has dropped 6.5 percentage points since 2015 (self-reported). The heavy drinking rate is similar (28.5%). Before a dip in 2020, life satisfaction was increasing in this group.
There are couple of interesting outliers. The share reporting at least 150 minutes of physical activity dropped from 67% in 2018 to 48% in 2020 and the share eating the recommended level of fruits and vegetables dropped from nearly 38% in 2015 to 22.6% in 2020. Is Keto contributing to a decline in mental health?
The labour market performance of young people has been improving. The pandemic put a bit of a dent but not by much.
The share of 25-34 year olds reporting $50,000+ annual income has increased by 61% over the decade. Now nearly 1/3 in this age group are earning $50K/year. The share earning $75k and over has more than doubled.
There doesn’t seem to be much in the data to indicate why NB 18-34 year olds are seeing an unprecedented drop in mental health perception (again relative to the country overall).
All I can say is that optimism is a choice. Over the course of my life, just like today, there have been two views on the future. In the 1980s when I was a teenager industrialization and pollution was leading to global catastrophe. Around 2000 there was a sense of impending doom - Y2K. Global terrorism was going to hold the entire world in its grip.
You can look at challenges such as climate change and social justice and respond negatively or you can take up the challenge and work in your community on solutions.
If the pandemic is getting you down, get out and exercise more - and maybe eat a few more fruits and veggies. Volunteer more. Only 42.7% of persons aged 25-34 in New Brunswick are formally volunteering in the community. In Saskatchewan, the volunteerism rate among this age group is 59.2%. The share reporting a very good to excellent mental health in Saskatchewan is 13 percentage points higher.
New Brunswick will be better off with an optimistic, ambitious and engaged youth. As I have been writing on these pages we do seem to be turning the corner in a positive direction in New Brunswick. The population is growing again. The economy is strengthening. Sure there are challenges but there are also big opportunities.