New data suggests COVID-19 has accelerated the decline in mental health among young Canadians.
“While the mental health of Canadian youth has declined over the last few years, the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of youth was the largest of any age group,” reads a new report by Statistics Canada titled Portrait of Youth in Canada: Data Report.
According to the report, less than half of youth aged 15 to 30 reported excellent or very good mental health (40 per cent) in summer 2020. The effects of physical distancing appear especially negative on youth according to the report, as they were the most likely group to report a negative impact on their mental health since the start of such measures. Seniors were the least likely group to do so, it adds.
These findings confirm a broader trend that started less than a decade ago, when young Canadians reported more positive mental health than their older counterparts. Nearly three out of four females (74 per cent) aged 15 to 30 reported excellent or very good mental health in 2011-2012, compared to 69 per cent of females aged 47 and older. By 2019, woman aged 47 and older reported the same level of mental health compared to 2011-2012, while the number of young females reporting excellent or very good mental health had dropped to 54 per cent.
The health of young Canadians has also declined in other ways. While the number of Canadian youth smoking cigarettes has dropped into single digits, eight per cent for males and six per cent for females in 2019, Canadians aged 15 to 30 drink more heavily and smoke more cannabis than their older counterparts. Obesity rates have also risen, albeit slightly, 9.6 per cent to 11.8 per cent for males and from seven to 11.7 per cent for females, between 2001 and 2019.
Overall, the report concludes that Canadians aged 15 to 30 are less obese, more active and smoke less than older Canadians now, but more obese and less active than Canadian youth 20 years ago.
The report also finds a sociological cleavage among youth. Canadian youth who fall into the category of White Canadians are more likely to drink heavily and smoke cannabis than Canadian youth who fall into a group that qualifies as a visible minority. Behaviour damaging to health such as smoking is also higher among youth living in low-income households.
“Young Canadians belonging to a group designated as a visible minority smoke less and have lower obesity rates than White Canadians,” the report reads. But youth belonging to a group designated as a visible minority also spend less time doing active recreational activities and eat fewer fruits and vegetables than White Canadians.
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