TORONTO, April 26, 2022 – The COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on the mental health of Ontario students, with 59 per cent saying the pandemic has made them feel depressed about the future, and 39 per cent reporting it has made their mental health worse. About 18 per cent report they seriously contemplated suicide in the past year. This according to the latest Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) Report released today by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
The data were collected between March and June 2021 among 2,225 Ontario students in grades 7 to 12. The 2021 OSDUHS report contains some of the most comprehensive provincial youth data available from during the pandemic, providing a snapshot of student mental health and substance use during a period of at-home learning.
"Ontario students were already reporting high levels of suicidal ideation, self-harm and psychological distress before COVID-19 emerged,” said Dr. Hayley Hamilton, Senior Scientist in CAMH's Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, and survey lead. “These data indicate that the added stresses of the pandemic—such as lockdowns and remote learning—have further negatively impacted the mental health of a large proportion of students."
Overall, almost half of Ontario students (47 per cent) indicate moderate to severe levels of psychological distress, which refers to symptoms of anxiety and depression, in the past month. An added concern is the large number of students (42 per cent) with unmet mental health needs who say they wanted to seek help in the past year but did not know where to turn.
"The pandemic has acted as a double-edged sword, negatively impacting the mental health of students while exacerbating the gaps that already existed regarding equitable access to timely mental health supports," said Dr. Joanna Henderson, Director, Margaret and Wallace McCain Centre for Child, Youth & Family Mental Health, and Executive Director, Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario. "Too many students are stuck on long wait lists, or are not getting the kind of help they need and deserve. We can’t wait until after the pandemic to address these issues. There is an urgent need to improve the system now, including continued investment from all levels of government.”
With Ontario schools switching to remote learning for months at a time over the course of the pandemic, the survey asked for the first time about the impact of internet-based schooling on students’ mental health. One quarter of respondents (26 per cent) said they found remote learning “very difficult” or “extremely difficult.”
The survey also asked students for the first time if concerns over climate change were affecting their mental health. Fifty per cent said that worries about climate change were making them feel depressed about the future.
“This is the time in life when people are often most optimistic, but these numbers reflect what I’m hearing from my young patients,” said CAMH youth psychiatrist Dr. Amy Gajaria. “The growing worry about climate change, plus the pandemic layered on top, can foster a sense of general pessimism and depression about the future, especially for those young people who are already struggling with aspects of their daily life. These issues are very real to this cohort, and these worries about the future definitely impact their mental health in the present.”