A report by the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) shows there has been a decline in students’ mental health after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Joanna Henderson, director of the Margaret and Wallace McCain Centre for Child, Youth and Family Mental Health at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, or CAMH, said that youth are struggling with mental health.
“Youth who are in the post-secondary age range, including youth who attend post-secondary, are experiencing greater difficulties with anxiety and depression,” she said.
Compared to last year’s results, 74 per cent of students have reported feeling worse. Students have been left feeling overwhelmed, hopeless and sad.
Desiann Watson, a third-year Massage Therapy student at Humber College, said she has felt depressed because of the pandemic.
“I did miss out on a lot of opportunities because of COVID, so that made me depressed,” she said.
The report also states students expressed that online learning was accessible but there was not much support or value to it.
“If you’re not really getting that in person learning or if you’re just learning by yourself constantly you can start to lose motivation,” Watson said. “You don’t really have much time to talk with your teachers.”
The information gathered by Abacus Data shows that despite it being one in two students who are accessing counselling services, there are still some significant barriers in place including embarrassment or shame.
“I think some people don’t want to talk about their feelings or they will feel like they are weak,” Watson said.
Henderson said young people have a lot of internalized shame when reaching out for help.
Students can also experience stigma from their own families, peer groups, and unfortunately within the system as well. Henderson said this makes it harder for students to reach out for help.
“It is a significant barrier that young people experience,” Henderson said.
Other barriers preventing students from reaching out for help include delays, not knowing how to access services and concerns about discretion.
Students should be able to find a safe space where they can talk confidentially. Advocacy for a better mental health system and promotion of services are necessary including at the Humber counselling service.
“If they promoted it more and educated people about what their service can do for them, more people would understand and go,” Watson said. “Even if you aren’t depressed or sad.”
For some young people, the pandemic has left a lasting effect as it has changed or outright halted their educational and employment progress.
Although post-secondary students’ mental health is declining, Henderson hopes the positive changes that have come with the pandemic, such as with the educational systems ability to expand and adapt will have a lasting effect as well.