An annual survey conducted by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) revealed that more than half of all teenage girls in Ontario are experiencing symptoms of moderate to serious psychological distress including anxiety and depression.
This week, CAMH released the latest version of the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUH). Now in its 40th year, the survey polled more than 11,400 students in grades 7 through 12 on everything from their mental health to their average amount of screen time per day.
More than 38 per cent of students met the criteria for feeling “moderate” psychological distress within the past month, with another 17 per cent describing serious distress such as feelings of depression, worthlessness and hopelessness.
According to Hayley Hamilton, a senior scientist at CAMH and the co-lead of the survey, the findings showed a marked difference in the amount of girls who reported feeling psychological distress compared to boys.
“Female students are more than twice as likely as males to report elevated stress, poor mental health, seeking mental health counselling, thoughts of suicide and being prescribed medication for anxiety or depression,” Hamilton said in a statement.
More than 25 per cent of students revealed that they had visited a doctor for a mental health related issue in the past year, with 5.2 per cent reporting that they had been prescribed medication for anxiety, depression, or both.
Asurprising 39 per cent of students polled report that they “rarely” or “never” talk to a parent about their feelings.
While the study did reveal positive trends, such as a decrease in students reporting physical violence and bullying at school, there were areas that have researchers concerned, particularly when it comes to physical health and how youth are spending their time.
The study revealed an increase in the amount of time students spend using technology. Almost 64 per cent of all students surveyed reported spending three hours or more in front of some form of electronic screen ( TV, tablet, laptop or cellphone). A staggering 86 per cent, the majority of which were female, report using social media on a daily basis, with 20 per cent reporting that they spend upwards of five hours or more on social media.
This figure correlates with the report that only 23 per cent of students met the recommended daily physical activity guideline (60 minutes per day), as well as the increase in reports of students saying they felt preoccupied by technology and even feeling withdrawal symptoms when not using technology of some kind.
The study’s co-lead Robert Mann, a senior scientist at CAMH, is particularly interested in the survey’s findings as they relate to technology.
“While the survey can’t tell us whether technology use causes mental health issues, or vice versa, there is some evidence from other studies that there may be a link,” Mann said.
CAMH utilizes their findings as a resource for school and health professionals to better understand youth behaviour. In terms of education, the OSDUHS results are used to help formulate curriculum guidelines for physical and mental health, as well as evaluating the efficacy of current Ontario policies surrounding bullying and school safety.
The survey also helps to identify growing risks and trends in youth behaviour, particularly related to prescription opioid drug use, e-cigarettes, synthetic opioids and other high-risk behaviours such as texting and driving, street racing and gambling.