A closer look: Anxiety among Ontario university students
By Karoline Achille
The period of childhood, adolescence and young adulthood is a high-risk age group for the development of several forms of psychopathology, particularly anxiety disorders (Kessler et al., 2005). According to a survey by the Association of Directors of University and College Counseling Centers, anxiety remains the main concern among students (41.6%), followed by depression (36.4%) and relationship problems (35.8%) (Mistler et al, 2012). The American Association of Universities for Health in Canada found similar results. Nearly 33% of students reported anxiety about their academic performance (American College Health Association, 2016). University students are experiencing a type of anxiety that is unknown to the general population as they face: debt accumulation and repayment of school debt, rising tuition fees, paid work, balancing social life, academic success and uncertainty about the labour market after graduation (Kaniasty, Moore, Howard & Buchwald, 2014).
Before examining the prevalence of anxiety disorders in Ontario, we need to examine the systemic challenges in mental health. If we look at Canadian provincial governments, we find that Ontario spends a little less on mental health than the national average, a difference of 7.2% (Institute of Health Economics, 2010). In addition, while Ontario invested an additional $18.5 billion in health care over the same period, the per capita investment was $1,361 in health care, compared to $16.45 per capita for mental health (Lurie, 2014). In 2016, through a survey of students across Ontario, researchers found that 65% of post-secondary students reported having exhausting anxiety (Ontario Universities, 2017). These results corroborate a study conducted at Queen’s University where nearly 62% of the students surveyed living with psychological disorders experienced a decline in academic performance (60%), health problems (57%) and absenteeism from school or work (48%) (Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, 2014). According to an online survey commissioned by Children’s Mental Health in Ontario from a representative sample of 806 Ontarians, 50% of Ontario parents have already expressed concerns about their child’s anxiety level and 33% of Ontario parents have encouraged their child to miss school because of anxiety (2017).
Finally, it should be added that suicide is the second leading cause of death among Canadian youth after accidents on the road (Statistics Canada, 2015). We must also mention the stigma associated with psychological disorders. According to studies by Rosenthal and Wilson (2008), more than 75% of students with significant psychological distress do not consult professionals because of this stigma. The reality of Canadian university students living in Ontario is characterized by stressors such as academic achievement, financial stress, rising tuition fees and other factors that make them vulnerable to anxiety disorders.
My name is Karoline Achille, I am a first-year student in the Master’s in Counselling Psychology at the University of Ottawa. My Master’s thesis focuses on the issues faced by university students in a minority context. I am a former undergraduate student and I am familiar with the reality of undergraduate students. These students are experiencing a lot of stress in many areas of their lives as they study.
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