The majority of post-secondary students are still grappling with the negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their mental health across Canada. A new report is calling on the federal government to enact policies to address the mental well-being of students.
Published Monday by the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations, an advocacy group representing 22 student associations nationwide, the report found a staggering three quarters of students reported experiencing negative mental health during their studies during the 2021-2022 school year.
The levels are on par with CASA’s 2021 research, and it “serves as an important reminder” that despite studying and working two years into the pandemic, and investment by the government, “students are still feeling left behind,” the report said.
The study, titled “The New Abnormal: Student Mental Health Two Years Into COVID-19,” found that more than a quarter of students reported their mental health as poor.
Supported by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the report surveyed 2,000 post-secondary students between May 13 to May 27, and has a margin of error of 3.1 per cent.
Jan Abou Issa was frustrated at seeing his big dreams of university life dashed as the pandemic raged last year, and forced him to start his first term online.
“I was studying alone, without the opportunity to socialize or ask my colleague for help,” said Abu Issa, 19, who studies medical science at University of Waterloo in Kitchener.
“Now I meet people, we discuss and review our lessons, I feel less pressure,” he said.
But Abou Issa remains engulfed by anxiety and uncertainty, and frets the pandemic could strike again. “Then, if restrictions were reinstated, we will be in worse days.”
While life has started going back to a pre-pandemic scene in many respects, the pandemic “has continued to negatively impact the mental health, financial, accessibility, and learning experiences” of the students, the report said.
Poor sleep habits formed the highest negative factor in mental health; 42 per cent of the sample reported them. They were followed by cost of living and academic workload at 38 per cent. Financial responsibilities came next, at 37 per cent.
Younger students, students with lower income, students identifying as 2SLGBTQ+, and those living with a pre-existing mental health concern were most at risk, according to the report.
The survey made note of Alberta, where 71 per cent of respondents reported their post-secondary institutions’ mental health services as lacking quality.
Nationwide, half of students sought mental health support. In-person and virtual counselling services were the most popular form of this. Other services included group peer support and self-directed programs.
Although students were aware of support services, waiting times, confidentiality concerns, and stigma had the most impact, when they decided to access the services, Mackenzy Metcalfe, executive director of CASA, told the Star.
“From coast to coast, students are telling us that they need more mental health support, and ‘The New Abnormal’ provides data to back up these … experiences,” she added.
The report found that “there is an urgent need to develop and maintain effective campus mental health supports, now more than ever.”
Investing in students’ mental health and well-being “is not only an effective means of reducing the annual $50-billion economic burden of mental illness in Canada, but is key to promoting Canada’s vision as an innovative, affordable, and equitable leader in post-secondary education,” it concluded.
Fares Alghoul is a Toronto-based general assignment reporter for the Star. Reach him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org