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The challenges that face our future leaders

October 5, 2022

A focus group with Leading Change, Kids Help Phone and Desjardins provides insights into the challenges youth face in 2022 and beyond.

Financial anxiety. Eco grief. Doomscrolling. These are just 3 struggles young people face as they navigate adulthood in a world where they're bombarded with grim economic and global news in real time.

Teens and twenty-somethings are often overlooked when discussing our society's biggest problems, including housing affordability, inflation and climate change. Guy Cormier, President and CEO of Desjardins Group, has been very vocal about the challenges our youth face and the need to do more to support them. When he became CEO in 2016, he launched a youth committee to ensure he understands the issues young people face.

Guy recently sat down with Kids Help Phone CEO Kathy Hay and people from Leading Change, an organization of young professional leaders striving to bring positive change to complex problems, to listen and learn from this demographic.

“There will be a new world in 2030… and you will shape this world. I’m totally convinced of that,” Guy said. “That’s why I want to listen to you and see if I can help you as an organization, as a person.”

During the conversation, held in Toronto in September, the group discussed the challenges youth face, how those challenges affect their mental health and what gives them hope for the future.

Financial anxiety is a major problem for young adults struggling with affordability—or lack thereof—in Canada's major cities. Many find it hard to carve out their independence from their parents given the high cost of tuition, housing and gas, said Anjana, 19, a university student and member of the Kids Help Phone National Youth Council. It's a privilege to have parental support, Anjana said, but it can muddle the shift to adulthood.

"This world is really difficult to be independent by yourself and to venture out without other support," she said.

Indeed, many young people find it tough to pay rent or find an affordable apartment in the first place, said Fadumo, 30, a researcher at a think tank focused on young people.

"As we get our first jobs and transition into adulthood, it's not as easy as we thought it would be," Fadumo said. "Our dissatisfaction is real, and there's data to prove it."

Cutting small expenses like coffee or avocado toast isn't enough to solve structural problems with inflation and housing. Meantime, young people worry about the bigger picture. "It's kind of frightening in how we plan our future," Fadumo said.

Climate change is another central concern for young people. For Gareth, 24, co-founder of a non-governmental organization, the essential conflict is choosing between chasing his passion or honouring the moral obligation to dedicate his time to climate and sustainability.

"The way that eco grief, or climate anxiety, manifests in my life is that I feel like I have to make sacrifices in terms of what I personally want to do in order to do what I feel like I need to do," he said. "I find myself looking at a future that is fairly bleak."

Shokoofeh, 26, who works in the sustainability and climate division at an accounting firm, said climate change makes it hard to plan for the future and decide whether or not to have kids. She feels guilt that she has the opportunity to live in Canada, where she won't be as affected by the physical and economic hazards of climate change as others around the globe.

Part of this guilt stems from the phenomenon of "doomscrolling," a term used to describe the endless feed of bad news on social media. Young people used to see a few images of global catastrophes in newspapers or on the evening news. Now they are fed a constant stream of raw images and videos on platforms like TikTok, Instagram and Twitter.

"It's not like we're thinking about just what's happening in Canada," Anjana said. "In a minute of swiping you can consume so much from around the world."

"Young people are so overwhelmed with the information," Fadumo said. "It makes you kind of feel hopeless when you think about it because you feel like this is bigger than me, how can I help?"

This exposure has a measurable effect on mental health. Kids Help Phone, which serves children and youth between 5 and 28 years old, sees a spike in calls following major events, like the Australian bushfires, the Ukraine International Airlines plane shot down by terrorists over Tehran, or the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant, Hay said during the conversation.

Despite the problems, the conversation ended with optimism as the group discussed what gives them strength to work towards solutions. Ultimately, it came down to working on projects they believe in that align with their values.

The road ahead is long, but youth want to break harmful cycles and help create that better future, said Emily, 26, who works in the sustainability sector.

"We all do this work every day," she said. "Part of us really believes it will make a difference." 

Additional Reading


Desjardins and Kids Help Phone have partnered together for over 30 years to support youth mental health. Recently, Desjardins announced a $1 million donation to Kids Help Phone to support their highest priority needs and to help young Canadians. Read the full release here.


To learn more about what Desjardins is doing to support young Canadians, click here.