By Sean O’Malley
Senior Media Relations Specialist
Part of what makes the CAMH Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) such a treasure trove for researchers is its ability to track social trends among boys and girls over the short and long term. Now more than 40-years-old, OSDUHS is the longest-running continuous survey of its kind in the world.
In last year’s OSDUHS report, which was the subject of a CAMH podcast last December, the numbers indicated how, since 1977, drug use among teens has been steadily declining to what are now the lowest levels ever recorded. Those 40-years of survey data, asking the same questions using the same methodology, allowed us to make comparisons over time in an apples-to-apples kind of way.
The long history of OSDUHS also allows us to identify statistically significant short- term changes in student behaviour. In the latest CAMH podcast, we take a deep dive into what the survey indicates is a dramatic spike in self-reported psychological distress among teenage girls over a relatively short period of time.
For the first time since psychological distress was included in OSDUHS, more than half of girls (51.3 per cent) reported an elevated level of psychological distress in the four weeks prior to when the question was asked. Even more troubling, that figure has spiked significantly in just the past four years. In 2013, that number was 32 per cent.
“The change to me is very stark,” says Dr. Hayley Hamilton, Senior Scientist at the CAMH Institute for Mental Health Policy Research and co-lead on the survey along with fellow Senior Scientist Dr. Robert Mann. “It’s definitely something to be concerned about.”
Dr. Hamilton and Dr. Mann’s job in regards to OSDUHS is to explain what is happening in terms of short and long-term trends. As to the thorny question as to why this is happening, we invited two CAMH experts to weigh in on what might be behind these dramatic changes in self-reporting of psychological distress. For example, during that same four year period, the number of students who spend five or more hours a day on social media has nearly doubled. Could there be a connection between the two?
“Very likely,” says Dr. Marco Battaglia, Associate Chief, Division of Child and Youth Psychiatry, adding that it is now something he routinely asks his young patients about. “Clinically, it has become part of our practice when we assess and treat girls and boys for anxiety and depression to check the amount of time they spend with social media.”
Also weighing in on the lives of girls today was Emma McCann – Youth Engagement Facilitator, McCain Centre, who sees the negative impact social media can have on girls first hand.
“They say ‘Everyone else is happier than I am. Everyone else is prettier than I am.’ They are constantly comparing themselves with the image everyone else is projecting,” says McCann. “I think that’s something that girls – being more internalizing – are really experiencing more than boys in their usage of social media.”
To listen to the full conversation, click here or listen below.
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