Majority of students feel anxious, worry about the future: report
Published Tuesday, February 12, 2013 10:36AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 12, 2013 11:44PM EST
A new report that surveyed more than 100,000 Toronto-area students found that more than half reported they often feel anxious.
The Toronto District School Board report found that 72 per cent of the Grade 9 to Grade 12 students polled often felt anxious.
The report, which was released on Tuesday, also found that 76 per cent of the surveyed Grade 9 to Grade 12 students reported feeling tired for no reason, 73 per cent said they worried about their future and 29 per cent said they felt like crying in school.
The report is based on the results of the 2011- 2012 student census, which is believed to be one of the largest youth polls in Canada.
The survey polled 103,000 TDSB students from Grade 7 to Grade 12. It was the first time the board surveyed its students on mental health issues.
TDSB, which serves more than 250,000 students each year, said 95 per cent of its Grade 7 and Grade 8 students responded to the survey.
As well, 84 per cent of its Grade 9 to Grade 12 students responded.
Students described to CTV News the pressures they often face.
“It feels like something is eating at you -- like literally eating you,” one female student said. “You feel this huge weight.”
Another female student said the pressure to succeed in school can lead to feelings of depression.
“There’s so much pressure on you to succeed and get a good grade. So if I don’t understand certain things or I think it’s going to be really hard I can get depressed,” she said.
School board officials applauded the report Tuesday, saying it’s hard to ignore the data.
“When they’re telling us they’re nervous or anxious by that big percentage points, I think we have to pay attention to it,” TDSB research coordinator Maria Yau said.
“When you hear the numbers, when you see that data, we are surprised. But now comes responsibility,” TDSB senior manager David Johnston said.
Now, Canada’s largest school board said it wants to use the report’s findings to help design a mental health strategy for the entire school system.
TDSB spokesperson Shari Schwartz-Maltz said the survey highlights the need for increased mental health resources in schools.
"These surveys drive programming in our schools, they give us a snapshot of the way our kids are feeling and they drive what we do," she said.
"What our research showed us is that there's certainly a gap in the area of mental health and we need to focus more of our resources in the area of mental health."
Experts weigh in on the causes of student anxiety
Experts say the high number of students reporting feelings of anxiety may be due to a number of factors.
Some suggest that because mental health issues are easier to talk about, students felt more comfortable opening up about their feelings in the survey.
Other experts say that a lack of sleep due to heavy use of the Internet may also play a role.
“They’re so connected to these machines, it is frightening actually,” Dr. Clare Gray of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario said. “Sometimes when I fix the sleep problems for these youth they no longer have these mood symptoms or anxiety symptoms.”
Other findings from the report:
- 66 per cent of Grade 9 to Grade 12 students and 40 per cent of Grade 7 and 8 students said they were under a lot of stress often or sometimes
- 70 per cent of Grade 9 to Grade 12 students and 64 per cent of Grade 7 and 8 students were worried about their school work
- 57 per cent of Grade 9 to Grade 12 students and 38 per cent of Grade 7 and 8 students said they were losing sleep because of worries
Some experts were unsurprised by the findings.
"I think of the children in our society as the canaries down the mine. The youngest people are often the most sensitive to societal stresses that are going on," Dr. Marshall Korenblum, psychiatrist-in-chief at Toronto’s Hincks-Dellcrest Centre for Children and Families, said.
Korenblum said that the large sample size of the study suggests that the findings could be indicative of a larger trend.
"Probably it is reflective of other large urban centres, so Vancouver, Montreal, Winnipeg I would suspect have similar rates," he said.
He suggests that concerned parents talk to their kids and look for signs of distress. He also said that better screening in schools, increased resources and more extracurricular activities can also help reduce student stress.
The TDSB report was released on Bell’s Let’s Talk Day. The campaign is aimed at ending the stigma surrounding mental illness.
With a report from CTV’s medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip and files from The Canadian Press