CAMH Ontario Drug Use and Health Survey
Quick Fact: The number of Ontario adolescents experiencing moderate to serious psychological distress jumped to 34% in 2014 from 24% in 2013. (CAMH)
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) recently released their latest Ontario Student Drug Use & Health Survey. This survey, the longest running school study of adolescents in Canada is conducted every two years. This year, 10,426 students from 220 schools participated.
One of the most significant changes documented this year was that while 66% of participants reported their mental health as “excellent” or “very good”, nearly 34% of participants (representing an estimated 328,000 youth) reported experiencing moderate to serious psychological distress. This statistic is a 10% increase from 24% in 2013.
According to CAMH, psychological distress is defined as “…symptoms of depression and anxiety and is measured using a six-item screening tool”. The survey asked students how often they felt nervous, hopeless, or worthless in the last 4 weeks. The study found that girls were twice as likely as boys to report these types of symptoms (46% compared to 23%) and that they increase as students get older.
Grade 12 students are four times more likely than Grade 7 students to report high levels of stress. They are also more than twice as likely to rate their mental health as “fair” or “poor”. While these older youths were more likely to think about suicide, they were, unfortunately, less likely to seek help than their younger counterparts. In addition to the everyday stresses of being a teenager, Grade 12 students also face concerns over post-secondary school, money, and the job market.
“We often think of the adolescent years as being the prime of life – they’re young and healthy with all their lives in front of them – but in fact it’s different for a large proportion of students. It’s a very stressful time and I think we need to be recognizing this. We’re certainly going to be looking at this much more carefully.”
The Ontario Student Drug Use & Health Survey presents necessary and important information, but it does not include solutions. Children’s Mental Health Ontario’s (CMHO) annual report card showed a 60% increase in hospitalization for youth seeking mental health treatment. At first glance, this statistic seems positive: youth are seeking help. However, in reality, many youth are going to hospitals because their communities lack prevention programs, mental health resources or accessible therapy options.
Dr. Mann points out that in addition to an increase in mental health resources, early intervention and school-based mental health education have worked in the past. He highlights that substance abuse has dropped over the past two decades and believes that this is, in part, due to raised awareness. The CAMH report discovered that one out of five students said they feel distressed and want to speak to someone, but don’t know who to turn to. This statistic represents approximately 280,400 Ontario students and must serve as a wake up call around mental health awareness.
“We are creating generations of kids who think life has to be stress-free. We have not been teaching them how to solve the problems causing the stress.”
If youth believe that life is supposed to be stress-free, the daily stress and worry they encounter will be compounded by isolation. The students surveyed report sleeping less, and only 22% met the recommended daily physical activity guidelines. It is worrying that despite the fact that sleep and daily exercise are known factors that can positively affect mental health, more isn’t being done to encourage healthier lifestyles in Ontario’s youth.
Rather than a clinical approach, many of Ontario’s grassroots youth organizations are working to address issues related to youth mental health from a community-based perspective. These organizations serve an important function in communities around the province and often provide that person that youth feel they can turn to as well as opportunities to learn preventative skills and strategies. We need to continue to encourage and support these grassroots organizations as they provide essential programs and services while mainstream institutions and service providers across the province work to prevent and address youth mental health needs.
Learn more about some grassroots youth organizations that are taking a community-based approach to youth mental health:
Select News Coverage:
High anxiety, distress levels in teens counter ‘prime of life’ image
THE GLOBE AND MAIL
One-third of Ontario adolescents report ‘psychological distress’, survey finds
THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Number of Ontario teens with psychological distress rising at alarming rate: study
CAMH PRESS RELEASE
One-third of Ontario students report elevated psychological distress, CAMH survey shows