Social determinants of health

Youth suicide results of multiple individual, historical and contextual factors.1 In order to build strong, resilient communities, it’s critical to identify the trends and forces that contribute to youth suicide.

What are the primary social determinants of health for young people?

Socioeconomic status and income

Income determines a family’s ability to have safe housing, proper nutrition and educational resources, which are critical to a child’s development.2 This trend is also true of neighbourhoods, as young people growing up in poor communities are at increased risk for poor health outcomes.3

Family structure and support

Youth who feel they have positive relationships with their parents in a safe and nurturing environment tend to describe themselves as healthier and happier.4 Lone-parent families are at higher risk and sometimes struggle to access adequate resources.5;6

Social support

Social support networks promote resiliency in young people.5 From early childhood through the teenage years, meaningful involvement in the community is vital for healthy development.5 Youth can also greatly benefit from developing meaningful relationships with adults.7

Access to and use of health services

Families need access to a broad range of health care services to stay healthy, including hospitals, physicians, psychologists, social workers, dentists and rehabilitation services.5 Struggling to access these services (e.g. when living in rural areas) can be a significant barrier for children and youth's healthy development

Healthy child development

Early life experiences such as alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy, abuse, neglect and low birth weight can lead to lifelong negative consequences.8 On the other hand, secure attachment between the child and caregiver has lasting positive effects.

Education and employment

Early readiness to learn in preschool years, completion of high school and participation in the labour force are all predictors of long-term health.5 Endorsing education as key to mental health is an effective approach in raising healthy youth.


Girls tend to report more body-image issues, internalizing disorders and suicidal ideation and behaviour. Boys, on the other hand, tend to report higher rates of alcohol and tobacco consumption, more externalizing disorders and more deaths by suicide.9;4

Physical environment

Keeping our young people safe and healthy starts with the water we drink and the air we breathe. Communities can endeavour to keep children and youth away from second-hand smoke and provide them with proper nutrition.2

Personal health practices and coping skills Lifestyle choices and actions youth take can prevent disease, promote self-care, and help them cope with challenges, develop independence, solve problems and make choices to enhance their health and well-being.10
Biology and genetic endowment The basic biology or genetic make-up of a youth can determine their health and well-being. Young people can be predisposed to different diseases or health problems affecting their health and mental health status.10
Culture Some youth face additional threats to their health and well-being because of their socio-economic environment. An environment that is largely determined by dominant cultural values, which continues to create conditions such as marginalization, stigmatization, loss or devaluation of language and culture/cultural identity and lack of access to culturally appropriate care and services. 10


Did you know?
The Assembly of First Nations recognizes the following determinants of health as specific to First Nations: community readiness, economic development, employment, environmental stewardship, gender, historical conditions and colonialism, housing, land and resources, language, heritage and strong cultural identity, legal and political equity, lifelong learning, on and off reserve, racism and discrimination, self-determination and non-dominance, social services and supports, and urban and rural.11


Additional resources

Closing the gap in a generation : Health equity through action on the social determinants of health  is a report by the World Health Organization that includes the latest evidence on inequalities with respect to social determinants of health around the world. The report also includes an action plan developed by the Commission on Social Determinants of Health which aims to address these inequalities. 

Linking poverty and mental health: A lifespan view, a policy paper for decision-makers, was released by the Ontario Centre of Excellence for Child and Youth Mental Health to address the association between poverty, family and area characteristics, and child and youth mental health.

Social determinants of health and well-being among young people was released by the World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe to explore the social context, physical and mental health, health behaviours and risk behaviours in school-aged children.

Using Population Health Data to Profile the Health and Well-Being of Children and Youth in Eastern Ontario was developed by the Child and Youth Health Network for Eastern Ontario to help agencies use a population health approach for planning services for children and youth.