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Depression, anxiety all too common

New website offers picture of city

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Roughly one in four Winnipeggers suffers from anxiety or depression, a remarkably high figure that hasn't improved much in the last decade.

It's one of many surprising indicators that make up Peg, a new interactive website launched Tuesday by the United Way that uses hard data on everything from child welfare to charitable giving to paint a picture of Winnipeg. The website has been years in the works, mirrors similar sites in other cities and will help policy-makers and the public tell what's working and what isn't.

Most of the data on the Peg is cherry-picked from other sources, including the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, which produced the most recent mental health stats on Peg. The MCHP looked at data from physician visits, hospitalizations and prescription drug use over a five-year period and found 24.4 per cent of Winnipeggers were getting treatment for anxiety or depression. And rates had only declined by two per cent over the last decade.

Health researcher Randy Fransoo said when the MCHP first began crunching the data on mental health years ago, scientists were shocked at how common depression and anxiety really were.

"We were just astounded, dumbfounded that the numbers were as high as they were, but the people on the ground doing the work weren't," he said. "In previous reports, we've always seen these numbers go up, so the fact that it's plateauing now may be a good sign."

Staff at the Manitoba office of the Canadian Mental Health Association said Winnipeg's numbers match national rates.

Mental illness is one of the few health indicators where poverty doesn't appear to be a driving factor. Rates were almost as high in wealthy neighbourhoods such as River Heights, Tuxedo and St. James as they were in the North End.

The mysterious bright spot is Inkster, which includes Tyndall Park, Garden Grove, Weston and Brooklands, There are low-income neighbourhoods in some of those areas, but residents have much lower rates of mental health problems. Only 18 per cent were diagnosed with anxiety or depression in the last five years. In fact, said Fransoo, the neighbourhood's residents are consistently healthier than people in similar socio-economic situations.

Joe Gupta, the owner of the India Spice House off Inkster Boulevard and a community leader, suspects the strong mental health numbers are driven by new immigrants from India, Pakistan, the Philippines and beyond. They tend to have strong extended family units and a close-knit cultural communities.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 5, 2013 A6

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