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Youth mental health in the spotlight again, as pandemic drags on

May 6, 2022, 11:00 a.m. (EDT)
three illustrations of children’s heads, depicting mental health: one with a low battery, another with a thundercloud, and the third with a mound of tangled string.

More than two years into school closures, virtual learning, isolation, and fewer gatherings with family and friends, data collected on younger Canadians from the earlier months of the COVID-19 pandemic have provided some insight on its effects on their mental health.

May 7 marks the annual National Child and Youth Mental Health Day in Canada, a topic that is a priority for many children and parents.

Just over 40% of Canadian youth aged 15 to 24 reported having excellent or very good mental health in late March and early April 2020, compared with 62% in 2018—the largest drop of any age group.

Furthermore, crowdsourced data from the early weeks of the pandemic suggest that over half (57%) of participants aged 15 to 17 reported their mental health as either somewhat worse or much worse than it was before physical distancing measures were implemented.

Statistics Canada’s 2019 report Portrait of Youth in Canada indicates that income continues to play a role in youth mental health. Youth living in the poorest households were less likely to report excellent or good mental health and likelier to report having seriously contemplated suicide.

We have also been tracking the effects of remote learning through our interactive tool School closures and COVID-19.

Data from 2019 suggest that children already reporting mental health challenges may be particularly vulnerable. Among children and youth aged 5 to 17, 17% reported poor or fair mental health, and 5% reported a diagnosed anxiety disorder.

Notably, more than half (52%) of youth aged 12 to 17 viewed their mental health differently than their parents did, and nearly two-thirds rated it less positively than their parents. The numbers suggest that parents may not always be aware of their child’s mental health struggles.

And as always, the stories behind the data are often very relatable for so many children and parents.

The December 7, 2021, episode of the Eh Sayers podcast featured conversations with a kindergarten teacher, a pediatrician and an occupational therapist, as well as kindergarten and high school students.

All the podcast guests shared how their lives have changed—students have had to face challenges and adapt, and teachers, doctors and other professionals have also had to adapt their support methods.

As we head into the summer months and have a chance to gather more, hope is also in the air for a continued return to a more normal routine of school and activities in the fall, with its added mental health benefits for children and youth.

Contact information

For more information, contact the Statistical Information Service (toll-free 1-800-263-1136514-283-8300infostats@statcan.gc.ca) or Media Relations (statcan.mediahotline-ligneinfomedias.statcan@statcan.gc.ca).