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The Link Between Gut Health and Mental Health: A Closer Look at Canada's Current Concerns

Updated: 5 days ago


In 2022, 5 million Canadians 15 years and older met the criteria for a mood, anxiety or substance use disorder (Statistics Canada, accessed December 12, 2023). This translates to approximately 1 in 6 people struggling with a clinical mental health issue. Some reports suggest that this high incidence may be due to COVID, which could be part of the issue, but the significant increase in mental health struggles, specifically among younger adults and youth, has been the trend prior to 2020.


Unfortunately, fewer than half (48%) of the people struggling with mental health issues reported actually seeing a mental health professional for support. Of those who did seek out support, they were most likely to talk to their family doctor (GP).


If you are struggling with mental health, I want to provide some statistics to help you know that you are not alone:


Among people 15 years+, over the last 10 years, the prevalence of:


-       generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) has doubled (2.6% - 5.2%)

-       major depression (MD) has doubled (4.7% to 7.6%)

-       bipolar has increased (1.5% - 2.1%)

-       social phobia has quadrupled (6.15% - 24.7%)

-       interestingly, the prevalence of substance use disorders has gone down – which is mainly due to a decrease among men (ages 15-24, 3.2% to 2.2%; an cannabis use stable at 1.5%).


And what about my gut?


Globally, 40% of the world population struggle with digestive issues – now called “Disorders of Gut-Brain Interaction” (DGBI; Rodrigues et al., 2023). DGBI were formerly called “Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders”.


This number includes 22 disorders (e.g., irritable bowel syndrome, IBS; functional constipation, functional diarrhea, unspecified bowel disorders) and excludes people with inflammatory disease like celiac disease, malignancy and/or inflammatory bowel disease.


DGBI are among the most common reasons for absenteeism – that is missing school or work, and not surprisingly people with DGBI are likely to report significantly lower quality of life compared to people without DGBI (Rodrigues et al., 2023).


In Canada, DGBI are more common among:

-       females vs males (47% vs. 35%; 1.65 odds ratio; OR)

-       ages <65 (OR 0.90 for every decade)

-       higher BMI

-       Francophones


Impact on the health care system:

While only 40% of people with a DGBI go to a health care professional to help with symptoms, more than twice as many Canadians go to their doctor monthly for a bowel related issue when they have a DGBI versus those who do not (15% vs. 6%).


Psychological Impact of DBGI:

Once again, if you struggle with a DGBI – you are not alone in your difficulties. People with a DGBI report ongoing concerns about their bowels compared to those who don’t have a DGBI (61% vs. 25%). In addition, people with DGBI report embarrassment in discussing the physical issues they face and feel alone in their struggles (Rodrigues et al., 2023).


People with DGBI report significantly poorer quality of life and increased psychological symptoms (prevalence of psychological symptoms by province ranges from 36-48% across Canada; Rodrigues et al., 2023).



People with DBGI are significantly more likely to be on medication for:

-       GI symptoms

-       comorbidities such as anxiety, depression and insomnia

-       pain.


Big picture, there is a large proportion of the population that struggles with DGBI and report poorer mental health and physical wellbeing.


If you or someone you love is one of these people, you/they are not alone! To start to feel better, the latest research supports that a multidisciplinary approach is needed (i.e., a team comprised of several health care professionals supportive of your healing journey).



I know many of you feel frustrated and/or that you needs aren’t met by your health care provider(s). It can be exhausting advocating for yourself to get the support that you need, but once you do find and put together a team, you will be able to start on your healing journey. I’ve provided some ideas below to help you get started:


1.     Start with your family doctor. (Don’t have a doctor? Try a walk in clinic – and go prepared – check out my article on “How to Advocate for Yourself on Your Healing Journey” --> COMING SOON!).


2.     Psychologist

Trauma work Given the distinct connection between the gut and the brain, if you have experienced any level of trauma in your life, consider working with a trauma focused psychologist to help your brain and body heal). One of the best investments I made in my health was to do trauma work, specifically from the ‘Internal Family Systems’; 'Inner Child Work' approaches along with ‘Havening’.


3.     Dietitian

If you’ve worked with one in the past that wasn’t the best fit, please try again! If you find the right fit, dietitians are very knowledgeable and great at providing evidence-based client centered care. I personally and professionally love working with Ignite Nutrition.


4.     Alternative Practitioners

I include a number of alternative practitioners on my health care team so that I have a variety of supports available depending on what my body needs. These types of alternative providers have been invaluable in my healing journey:

-       Osteopath

-       Acupuncture/DTCM

-       Hypnotherapy

-       Shaman/soul journey


5.     Health Coach

I may be biased, but working with a qualified health coach can be an essential part of your healing journey. Make sure to find someone who is the right fit based on your needs. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions about their training and qualifications so that you can find the right person for you on your journey.


Check out what my health coaching clients are saying here:


“I must say at first, I raised an eyebrow on this type of inner healing approach. After a couple sessions of listening and learning I realized how valuable these techniques are after implementation. My condition had a chronic weekly effect on my body & life that was laboring me in many ways. Now after completing the sessions, I rarely experience that treaded laboring kind of feeling. Thank you, Justine, for guiding me through this wonderful journey”  

~Matthew Dunn


“The link between the brain and chronic health issues is nothing short of amazing and Justine has the knowledge and experience to explain this connection in a clear and easy to understand way as it pertains to gut health. This course was a great introduction to key topics and has equipped me with the right tools to embark on my healing journey from the inside out. I joined this course to help my digestive issues (severe GERD and gastritis) but the takeaway to my overall health and well-being was tenfold.”

~ Chantal Doucet



Click here to book in for your FREE 1:1 45-minute consult to see how I can help you get to the bottom of your digestive struggles and create a life you love!


PS – Make sure to connect with me on Instagram and Facebook and share this post with someone who could benefit!



Rodrigues, D. M., Poitras, P., Day, A. G., Sperber, A. D., Palsson, O., Bangdiwala, S. I., & Vanner, S. J. (2023). The epidemiology and impact of disorders of gut–brain interaction in Canada: Results from the Rome Foundation Global Epidemiologic Study. Neurogastroenterology & Motility, e14585.

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