Is There a Mental Health Crisis among Canadian Postsecondary Students?

Research Paper Title

Mental Health among Canadian Postsecondary Students: A Mental Health Crisis?

Background

Recent reports express concerns about a mental health crisis among postsecondary students. These assertions, however, often arise from surveys conducted in postsecondary settings that lack the broader context of a referent group. The objectives of this study were:

  • To assess the mental health status of postsecondary students 18 to 25 years old from 2011 to 2017; and
  • To compare the mental health status of postsecondary students to nonstudents.

Methods

Prevalence was estimated for a set of mental health outcomes using seven annual iterations of the Canadian Community Health Survey (2011 to 2017). Logistic regression was used to derive odds ratio estimates comparing mental health status among postsecondary students and nonstudents, adjusting for age and sex. Random effects metaregression and meta-analyses techniques were used to evaluate trends in prevalence and odds ratio estimates over time.

Results

Over the study period, the prevalence of perceived low mental health, diagnosed mood and anxiety disorders, and past-year mental health consultations increased among female students, whereas binge drinking decreased among male students. With the exception of perceived stress, the odds of experiencing each mental health outcome were lower among postsecondary students compared to nonstudents.

Conclusions

These findings do not support the idea that postsecondary students have worse mental health than nonstudents of similar age. The perception of a crisis may arise from greater help-seeking behaviour, diminishing stigma, or increasing mental health literacy. Regardless, the observance of these trends provide an opportunity to address a previously latent issue.

Reference

Wiens, K., Bhattarai, A., Dores, A., Pedram, P., Williams, J.V.A., Bulloch, A.G.M. & Patten, S.B. (2020) Mental Health among Canadian Postsecondary Students: A Mental Health Crisis? Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. 65(1), pp.30-35. doi: 10.1177/0706743719874178. Epub 2019 Sep 4.

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