COVID-19 causes anxiety among Canadian youth: survey

The majority of Canadian youth miss going to school, according to a survey aimed at determining how the pandemic has affected their attitudes and behaviours.

“If you’re a child under the age of 18, a lot of what has happened (with COVID-19) you’ve watched happen around you,” said Deborah Morrison, the president of Experiences Canada, one of the organizations involved in conducting the survey. “We thought it was extremely important to check in with this cohort of youth because they are going to carry the weight and effects of the pandemic much longer than the rest of us will.” 

The survey, which is the largest among Canada’s youth on this topic to date, was conducted through a partnership between Experiences Canada, the Association for Canadian Studies, and the Vanier Institute of the Family. It found that many Canadians between the ages of 12 and 17 years old miss going to school, are afraid of catching COVID-19, and turn to their parents for their news. 

Being stuck at home rather than heading to class every day is something that has caused unrest among youth of all ages, according to the survey. Female students reported missing school more than their male counterparts, at 75 per cent and 66 per cent respectively. 

“The results are really echoing what we’re hearing just anecdotally,” said Ashley Reaume, a program coordinator at Experiences Canada. “We know that they’re disappointed; they’re grieving the loss of important milestones.” 

When it comes to feeling confident about the quality of their schoolwork, however, boys take the lead – 72 per cent said they believe they’re doing well, compared to 69 per cent of girls. Across the board, the majority of youth reported doing less homework than usual. 

“The question around doing homework, through online mechanisms and platforms when you don’t have school is a very significant one,” said Jack Jedwab, the president of the Association for Canadian Studies. “This is a trend to be concerned about, when we go into the fall... (This) could mean that it will be increasingly challenging for educators to keep our youth up to the necessary standard with respect to their education.” 

According to the survey, graduating students and CEGEP students are the least likely to care about missing school. 

ANXIETY

For many youth – nearly 75 per cent – their fears surrounding catching the COVID-19 virus have resulted in them struggling to sleep at night. Just over 70 per cent said they often and sometimes feel anxious.

Despite feeling sad or anxious since the start of the pandemic, they also reported occasionally feeling happy. Much like their parents, they are working through mixed feelings. 

“We’ve all gone through a lot,” Morrison said, but “this is a generation that has grown up with disruption. They were born in the aftermath of 9/11, they were schooled through the war in Afghanistan, multiple climate change catastrophes, and growing economic uncertainty.” 

Morrison pointed out that after living through difficult world events, a large chunk of Canadian youth is about to graduate in the midst of a global pandemic. 

In search of comfort, youth who are afraid of the virus have reported that they typically go to their parents for their COVID-19 news, but they also said they rely on media outlets and social media sites to stay up to date. Some, however, said they were too sad or anxious to do that. 

“I think that the feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, even though there’s a mixed range of emotions, they’re still very high and prevalent,” said Ashley Manuel, the managing director of the Association for Canadian Studies. “And because mental health issues have always been something this generation has struggled with they’re definitely more at the forefront during this time.” 

Younger cohorts reported having more meaningful conversations with their parents compared to older ones, at 83 per cent and 75 per cent respectively.

FEAR OF THE VIRUS

While youth of all ages seem to be equally scared of the virus, older youth are more concerned about their loved ones. A total of 75 per cent of youth aged between 15 and 17 years old are scared someone in their immediate family will catch the virus, compared to 66 per cent of youth aged 12 to 14.

When it comes to both themselves their loved ones, Indigenous youth are less worried about the virus than non-Indigenous youth. The opposite is true for visible minority and immigrant youth, who have significantly higher levels of fear than non-visible minority and Canada-born youth.

The survey also found that youth with disabilities are more worried about catching the virus than abled youth, at 49 per cent and 38 per cent respectively. 

The survey was conducted online between April 29 and May 5 and received 1,191 responses from Canadian youth between the ages of 12 and 17. There is a probabilistic margin of error of +3 per cent. 

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