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12th Annual Health Equity Summit: Spotlight on Health Disparities among Three Youth Groups in Canada

By December 14, 2023No Comments

On Tuesday, November 7, 2023, CASSA hosted its 12th Annual Health Equity Summit, themed ‘South Asian Youth Perspective on Health Equity & Inclusion,’ at the Centennial College Progress Campus Event Centre from 9:30 AM to 4:00 PM. Committed to cultivating a healthier and more equitable society, we strategically centered the Summit on three distinct populations facing unique challenges in the Canadian healthcare landscape. Our focus on the health needs of youth with mental health and disabilities, youth experiencing homelessness, and international students was designed to address critical gaps in healthcare access and advance inclusivity within our healthcare systems.

12th Annual Health Equity Summit

1. Youth with Mental Health and Disabilities:

The well-being of Canadian youth, especially those grappling with mental health conditions or disabilities, is a paramount concern. Statistics from Youth Mental Health Canada (2019) underscore the urgency of addressing these issues, revealing that approximately 1.2 million children and adolescents in Canada face mental health challenges. However, a concerning reality persists as less than 20 percent of these individuals will receive the appropriate treatment.

Beyond the sheer prevalence of mental health conditions, the journey to accessing suitable care is riddled with challenges. Long wait times, as highlighted by Youth Mental Health Canada, persist as a pressing issue, with youth often encountering delays in accessing vital mental health services. These delays can exacerbate the impact of mental health conditions, emphasizing the need for swift and efficient intervention.

Moreover, the lack of cultural competency within mental health services compounds the difficulties faced by this demographic. Cultural nuances and diverse perspectives are often overlooked, hindering effective communication and understanding between healthcare providers and youth with mental health challenges. This oversight underscores the importance of tailoring mental health services to be inclusive and culturally sensitive.

By concentrating on this vulnerable population, our goal extends beyond raising awareness about mental health issues. We aimed to advocate for policies and practices that address multiple disparities, fostering improved accessibility and comprehensive support for youth facing these complex challenges. Recognizing the far-reaching implications of mental health on overall well-being, our Summit endeavored to spark discussions that led to actionable solutions and policy changes, ensuring a more compassionate and responsive mental healthcare system for Canadian youth.

2. Youth Experiencing Homelessness:

Homelessness among youth is a pressing concern that intersects with various health disparities. According to a report by the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (Gaetz et al., 2016), an estimated 35,000-40,000 Canadians experienced homelessness in 2016, and on any given night between 6,000-7,000. Strikingly, youth ages 13-24 made up 20% of the homeless population. 

Moreover, a study on homeless individuals revealed alarming statistics that highlight the systemic issues within healthcare delivery. A staggering 36% reported being judged unfairly or treated with disrespect by medical staff, perpetuating a cycle of distrust and hindering their willingness to seek medical assistance. Additionally, 30% of homeless individuals believed they should be eligible for disability assistance but were not receiving it, pointing to barriers in accessing essential support services (Gessler et al., 2011).

The lack of stable housing creates a myriad of health issues, from increased susceptibility to infectious diseases to mental health struggles. By placing a spotlight on this vulnerable population, our Summit seeked to promote collaborative efforts among healthcare providers, policymakers, and community organizations to develop targeted solutions that address the unique healthcare needs of youth experiencing homelessness.

3. International Students:

International students contribute significantly to the cultural diversity and academic vibrancy of Canadian institutions. However, navigating the Canadian healthcare system can be a daunting task for these individuals. According to a study published in the Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health (Pandey et al., 2022), language barriers, unfamiliarity with the healthcare system, and a lack of social support can hinder their access to necessary healthcare services. 

The harsh reality is that international students, driven by aspirations for a better life in Canada, grapple with increasing living costs. Many are compelled to work late nights and long hours, sacrificing their well-being. This lifestyle often leads to compromised nutrition, with students cutting off meals or depending on less healthy, inexpensive foods. Additionally, inadequate housing conditions, such as cramped basements shared with fellow international students, further contribute to the challenges they face.

Hyun et al.’s (2007) research underscores alarming rates of mental health conditions among international students (33%), comparable to domestic counterparts (56%). However, awareness of available mental health resources is notably lower among international students (61%) compared to domestic students (78%). Further research by Sokomonis et al. (2016) indicates an even lower awareness rate among international students (17.1%) versus domestic students (51.4%).

Recognizing the gravity of these issues, our focus on international students aims to bridge the existing gaps in healthcare access. By facilitating dialogues on culturally competent healthcare practices, improving health education, and advocating for policies that address the distinct needs of international students, we strive to create a more supportive environment for their overall well-being. Through collaborative efforts and heightened awareness, we can work towards a healthcare system that truly caters to the mental and physical health needs of the international student community in Canada.


By zeroing in on these three distinct yet interconnected populations, our 12th Annual Health Equity Summit sought to create a platform for meaningful discussions, share best practices, and inspire actionable initiatives that will contribute to a more equitable and inclusive healthcare system in Canada. Through collaboration and shared insights, we aspire to drive positive change and ensure that every individual, regardless of background or circumstance, can access the healthcare they need and deserve.

For highlights, photos, and recordings, please explore our coverage of the 12th Annual Health Equity Summit at www.cassa.ca/annual-health-equity-summit/. The summit proceedings report will be uploaded soon, so stay tuned!


Gaetz, S., O’Grady, B., Kidd, S., & Schwan, K. (2016). Without a home: The National Youth Homelessness Survey. Canadian Observatory on Homelessness. https://www.homelesshub.ca/sites/default/files/WithoutAHome-final.pdf 

Gessler, S., Maes, C., & Skelton, I. (2011). Winnipeg Street Health Report. Homeless Hub. https://www.homelesshub.ca/sites/default/files/attachments/Wpg.St.Health.Report.2011.pdf

Hyun, J., Quinn, B. C., Madon, T., & Lustig, S. (2007). Mental health need, awareness, and use of counseling services among international graduate students. Journal of American College Health, 56(2), 109-118.

Pandey, M., Kamrul, R., Michaels, C. R., & McCarron, M. (2022). Identifying Barriers to Healthcare Access for New Immigrants: A Qualitative Study in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 24(1), 188–198. 

Sokomonis, V., Pignatiello, A., Zhang, J., & Goodman, J. (2016). The Mental Health of International Students: An Exploratory Study. Journal of International Students, 6(3), 661-677. 
Youth Mental Health Canada. (2019). Youth Mental Health Reality: The Difference We Can Make. https://ymhc.ngo/resources/ymh-stats/