A new study shows that just over 50 percent of teenage female students in Ontario, Canada, show signs of moderate to serious psychological distress.

Psychological distress, which refers to symptoms of anxiety or depression, has been rising steadily among all Ontario students in Grades 7 to 12 since it was first monitored in 2013, according to the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (OSDUHS), released by Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

However, girls seem to fare worse on this and other mental health measures, researchers noted.

“Female students are more than twice as likely as males to report elevated stress, poor mental health, seeking mental health counseling, thoughts of suicide, and being prescribed medication for anxiety or depression,” said Dr. Hayley Hamilton, Senior Scientist in CAMH’s Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, and survey co-lead.

The 2017 OSDUHS, which surveyed 11,435 students, is Canada’s longest-running study of mental health and substance use among youth.

The latest numbers show that technology and social media use also increased.

In total, 20 percent of students spend five or more hours on social media a day, compared to 11 percent in 2013.

And nearly one-third (30 percent) spent five or more hours a day on electronic devices such as smartphones, laptops, computers and gaming consoles.

According to the survey, 5 percent of secondary school students reported symptoms suggesting they had a serious problem with use of technology.

This is the first time the survey included questions on these symptoms, which included a preoccupation with technology, a loss of control, withdrawal symptoms, and problems with family and friends.

“While the survey can’t tell us whether technology use causes mental health issues, or vice versa, there is some evidence from other studies that there may be a link,” said CAMH Senior Scientist Dr. Robert Mann, co-lead of the survey.

Another first-time question found that 36 percent of students have had a concussion in their lifetime, and 15 percent — about 130,700 students — experienced a concussion in the past year. The most common reported causes of concussion were playing hockey or another team sport.

Additionally, 33 percent of students who drive still report that they text and drive, a figure that has not changed since 2015, even though the provincial government strengthened distracted driving laws that year with new penalties for texting and driving.

“We know that distracted driving leads to collisions and injuries, so reducing texting and driving among students is crucial,” said Mann.

One in four students visited a professional for a mental health issue over the past year, a figure that has remained stable from past surveys. The survey found that 5 percent of secondary school students were prescribed a medication for anxiety, depression, or both, and about 3 percent sought help by calling a telephone counseling helpline or over the internet.

Nearly one-third said they wanted to talk to someone about their mental health, but did not know where to turn. Almost four in 10 said that they rarely or never talk to their parents about their problems or feelings, according to the survey’s findings.

“These findings, coupled with the results showing increasing psychological distress and suicidal ideation, underscore the critical importance of creating youth-friendly spaces that provide a range of services,” said Dr. Joanna Henderson, director of the Margaret and Wallace McCain Centre for Child, Youth & Family Mental Health at CAMH and executive director of Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario (YWHO).

YWHO target the needs of 12 to 25 year olds as integrated “one-stop-shops” for mental health, substance use, primary care, education/employment/training, housing, and other community and social services, she reported.

On a positive note, there have been significant declines over the past two decades in violent behavior, carrying a weapon, and physical fighting at school, according to the survey’s findings.

“The majority of students — 81 percent — report that they like school to some degree, and nearly half like school quite a lot or very much,” said Hamilton.

While being a victim of bullying at school is still reported by 21 percent of students, it has dropped from 33 percent since 2003.

The same percentage, 21 percent, report being cyber-bullied, which has not changed from previous surveys, according to the latest figures.

Source: The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)

Photo: More than half of female students show signs of moderate to serious psychological distress, according to a survey of 11,435 Gr. 7-12 students in Ontario, Canada. These symptoms of anxiety and depression, which occur in 39% all students, have risen significantly since 2013. Credit: Lawrie Korec.