Mental health experts say a report this week on the stress levels of Toronto public school students should come as no surprise. "We're definitely just talking about it more," said David Wolfe, director of the Centre for Prevention Science at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. "I really don't see any upswing or uptake in terms of kids' mental health issues."
The report released this week by the Toronto District School Board shows many students experience feelings of anxiety, have worries about the future and occasionally lose sleep due to their concerns has taken many by surprise and prompted calls for action.
The report offered results of a survey that polled more than 100,000 Toronto youth in Grades 7 to 12 on a variety of issues, including their feelings. The results show that 73 per cent of students in Grades 9 to12 worry about the future all the time or often; 57 per cent of students in Grades 9 to12 report losing sleep over their worries sometimes or often.
On the flip side, two-thirds of students in Grades 9 to 12 say they are reasonably happy while 80 per cent of those in Grades 7 to 8 feel good about themselves.
Wolfe said the results reflect "normal" feelings young people experience and shouldn't be cause for alarm. However, there is a segment who have serious mental health issues that need greater attention. Surveys are a good place to start, but they don't address the problem of how to better reach those troubled young people.
Cheryl Tsagarakis, manager of client services, Central Toronto Youth Services, said there have been some positive changes in this regard. In particular, there are more connections between schools and mental health services, she said. For instance, her organization sees students referred from area schools. Many of them have a history of family conflict, bullying, violence, learning difficulties or other challenges. Central Toronto Youth Services can provide one-on-one counselling, family therapy and other resources.
A good way to provide better help is to keep this issue in the spotlight, she says, so that young people feel encouraged to talk about their feelings.
"We do have services in schools. They're not easily available and there are not enough of them," Wolfe said. "What we want to do is get kids to talk about it early before it becomes a crisis."