COVID-19: Youth Aged 16-24 Experiencing Anxiety, Substance Use Concerns and Increased Drinking

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Disadvantages of drinking alcohol for the body

TORONTO – COVID-19 Update – Youth across Canada are reporting higher levels of anxiety and substance use concerns, with less ability to handle pandemic stress.

Almost 45 per cent of young people (ages 16–24 years) report moderate to severe anxiety symptoms. About 40 per cent of youth who use alcohol, cannabis or both report that their use has increased. In contrast, older adults (ages 65 years and older) show signs of better mental health, less problematic substance use and stronger coping skills.

Youth are also consuming more alcohol and cannabis, according to a new Leger poll commissioned by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) and the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC).

“We know that people with substance use concerns have shown signs of worsening mental health, as well as greater consumption of substances, during the pandemic. Now we know that our youth are particularly at risk, citing school and managing their own mental health as their top stressors,” said Rita Notarandrea, CEO of CCSA. “These findings highlight the importance of long-term investment in a range of youth mental health and substance use health services and supports. We encourage everyone to reach out to the young people in their lives, to check in with them, to listen with compassion, and to let them know that they are not alone and that there are resources available to help when they need it.”

Youth not accessing services

According to the survey, 3 out of 4 young people experiencing mental health symptoms have not accessed services for help, whether virtually or in person. The top reasons for not accessing services include a preference to manage mental health on their own, not knowing how or where to get this kind of help, and not being able to afford the services.

“No one, especially youth, should have to face their mental health and substance use challenges alone. While free resources like the Wellness Together Canada portal are an important step forward, we must do more to address the gaps in timely, accessible, quality, culturally appropriate mental healthcare that existed long before the pandemic,” said Michel Rodrigue, President and CEO of the MHCC. “By working with decision makers to find solutions and make youth mental health a priority, we can help instill hope that recovery is possible.”

Stigma still a major issue but some signs of shifting among youth

Stigma is also a significant factor in people not accessing the help they need for mental health and substance use disorders.

The survey identified that perceived stigma toward depression is still common throughout the population, with more than half of respondents (53 per cent) saying they believe stigma toward people with depression is still present. However, there is evidence of a shift among youth. Young people consistently reported perceiving less stigma toward those with mental health issues when compared with the general population. Perceived stigma toward those with substance use issues, such as an alcohol use disorder, was even more prevalent among respondents of all ages. Two-thirds of respondents (68 per cent) reported perceiving stigma toward people with an alcohol use disorder still being present.

The results highlight the importance of continued effort and investment in youth mental health and substance use supports, fostering the resilience older adults have. They also demonstrate the need to further stigma reduction efforts across the population.

Quick Facts

  • Youth are more likely to report seriously contemplating suicide since the start of the pandemic than the general population (17 per cent compared with 9 per cent).
  • About 37 per cent of youth who use alcohol report increased use, compared with 27 per cent of the general population.
  • Between half and two-thirds of respondents reported that they believe stigma toward people with depression (53 per cent) and alcohol use disorder (68 per cent) is still present.