Symptoms of anxiety, depression higher in English-speaking youth
Student mental health took big hit during pandemic, study reveals
By Ruby Irene Pratka
A study of Quebec students has revealed the significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on youth mental health, with worrisome implications for English-speaking youth.
The study found that more than 40 per cent of high school and adult education students and nearly 60 per cent of CEGEP and university students experienced symptoms associated with moderate or severe depression or anxiety.
It involved more than 33,000 French- and English-speaking high school, CEGEP, university and adult education students in the Estrie, Lanaudière, Laurentides and Mauricie-Centre-du-Québec regions.
When the study began in January 2020, it focused on substance use. However, after the pandemic began, the study was expanded and reoriented to track mental health more closely. Young people aged 12 to 25 in more than 100 schools participated in the final round of surveys in January 2022.
A quarter of students had considered self-harm or “thought they’d be better off dead” during a given two-week period, said study leader Dr. Mélissa Généreux, of the Université de Sherbrooke faculty of medicine and health sciences and the CIUSSS de l’Estrie-CHUS.
Symptoms higher in English-speaking youth
The proportion of English-speaking youth who reported symptoms of anxiety and depression was significantly higher than that of francophone youth.
The study found that 43 per cent of English speakers reported moderate to severe anxiety compared with 28 per cent of French speakers; 44 per cent reported depression symptoms compared to 36 per cent of French speakers, and 36 per cent reported considering self-harm or thinking they’d be better off dead compared to 28 per cent of French speakers, Généreux said. More than half (52 per cent) of English-speaking respondents reported symptoms of either depression or anxiety.
About one in 50 participants across all language and geographical groups identified as neither male nor female. These students had higher overall levels of mental distress – 73 per cent of non-binary high school students and more than 80 per cent of non-binary CEGEP and university students reported “passable or bad” mental health, compared to 25 per cent of all high school and adult education students and 42 per cent of all CEGEP and university students.
Emmanuelle Gaudet, director of complementary educational services at the Eastern Townships School Board, was “saddened and concerned but not surprised” by the study results. Gaudet noted that while English-language public high schools have mental health teams including a psychoeducator, a psychologist, a substance abuse counsellor, a guidance counsellor and a spiritual and community life animator, access to mental health services in English for more complex situations isn’t always easy.
“Especially where mental health services are concerned, you need to be able to say what you need to say in your mother tongue…but waiting lists can be very long,” she said.
Généreux said the fact that more than 33,000 young people responded to a voluntary survey sent a strong message. “Crises are managed by adults through a very top-down decision-making structure, and we tend not to talk to youth enough, which can be very disempowering.”
Photo: Dr. Mélissa Généreux, of the Université de Sherbrooke faculty of medicine and health sciences