CAMH’s Ontario-wide student survey shows high rates of psychological distress and concerning health indicators

OSDUHS Mental Health and Well-Being Report Released Today

July 12, 2010 – An ongoing survey of Ontario students in Grades 7 to 12 conducted for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) shows that the number of students who rate their health as poor has significantly increased over the past two decades. The 2009 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS) Mental Health and Well-Being Report released today reveals important trends in mental health, physical health, and risk behaviours among Ontario students.

Elevated psychological distress has been a concern over the past decade, and the rate remains largely unchanged at 30%. “This includes feelings of depression, anxiety and social dysfunction, said Dr. Robert Mann, CAMH Senior Scientist and lead investigator on the study. “Many of these students expressed feelings of unhappiness and experienced loss of sleep. This percentage represents about 327,000 students – a staggering number – and the rate increases with grade. The good news may be that students seem to be consulting someone for mental health issues in higher numbers than ever before.” The report showed that the number of students who sought mental health care during the past year has doubled to 24% since 1999.

One area which has emerged as a concern in this year’s survey was the overall physical health of students. Fourteen percent of students reported poor physical health, a level which is markedly higher than the rates reported in the early 1990s. Also alarming was the high proportion of overweight or obese students. Twenty-five percent (about 246,000) of students are considered overweight or obese according to body mass index calculations. As well, injury rates appear to be increasing. The proportion of students reporting one or more physical injuries requiring treatment in the past year increased from 35% to 40% between 2003 and 2009.”

Screen time, video gaming and gambling

Another lifestyle factor that was measured for the first time this year was “screen time”: the amount of time students are spending watching television or using the computer. Ten percent of students reported that, on average, they spend seven hours per day on screen time. “All these factors seem to be contributing to the over all poor health of our students,” observed, Dr. Mann. “There is a definite connection between physical well-being and mental health. Students need to be encouraged to live healthy, balanced lifestyles and be monitored for unhealthy behaviours.” This years report showed that about 34% of students had not seen a doctor in the past year, even for a basic check up.

Forty-three percent of students reported engaging in gambling activities like card playing, lottery tickets and betting in sports pools, although the survey shows that gambling activity among students has decreased over the past few years. Also of concern is the amount of time students are spending playing video games. One-in-five students report playing video games daily and 10% of students have shown possible indicators of video gaming problems, reporting symptoms of preoccupation, loss of control, withdrawal, and disruption to family and school.

“These trends in behaviour are concerning and should be monitored by schools and at home,” said Dr. Bruce Ballon, Head of CAMH’s Adolescent Clinical and Educational Services (A.C.E.S.) for Problem Gambling, Gaming and Internet Use. “The fact that so may kids are engaging in this behaviour at such a young age can be an indicator for risk for problematic gambling and other harmful behaviour patterns as they get older.”

Bullying, delinquent behaviours

Bullying behaviours have also remained a concern among students. One-quarter of all students reported bullying other students, and 29% of students reported being bullied at school since September. This has not significantly changed since the first time it was measured in 2003. The good news is that the younger cohort may be turning around. Reports of bullying victimization significantly decreased among grade 7 students only.

“This may be a sign that increased effort to educate our kids early is working,” said Dr. David Wolfe, Director of CAMH’s Centre for Prevention Science. “We know that peer pressure and forms of bullying are considered normal in kids, but we know that these experiences can have long-term mental health consequences and effects on self esteem and the ability to socialize. The younger we educate kids on the effects of their behaviour, the better off they will be.”

Improvement has also been shown regarding delinquent behaviours. Overall, 11% of students engaged in delinquent behaviour, including theft and vandalism – a significant drop from when these rates peaked in the early 1990s.

Regional trends

Overall, rates did not differ greatly among regions. Regional differences are as follows:


  • Toronto students are more likely than the provincial average to be worried over being threatened or harmed at school;
  • to rate their physical health as poor;
  • to engage in no physical activity;
  • and to report a high level of “screen time” (that is, to be sedentary)
  • Toronto students are less likely to report being bullied at school.

Northern Region

  • Compared to the provincial average, Northern Ontario students are more likely to be overweight or obese.

Eastern Region

  • Compared to the provincial average, Eastern Ontario students are more likely to report sustaining an injury.
  • Students in the East are less likely to rate their physical health as poor, and to be overweight or obese.

Western Ontario students do not significantly differ from the province on any measure.

CAMH’s Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey is the longest running school survey of adolescents in Canada. Between November 2008 and June 2009, 9,112 students in grades 7 to 12 from 181 schools participated in the survey administered by the Institute for Social Research at York University. Today’s report describes mental health, physical health, and risk behaviour among Ontario students in 2009, and changes since 1991(where possible).

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is a Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization Collaborating Centre, as well as a teaching hospital fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

About The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) is Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, as well as one of the world’s leading research centres in the area of addiction and mental health. CAMH combines clinical care, research, education, policy development, prevention and health promotion to help transform the lives of people affected by mental health and addiction issues.