Mental Health Series: Depression and Anxiety Are on the Rise Among Canadian Students

Wellness Wednesdays — Part of our Mental Health Series


Students heading into university face a world of new possibilities—but that comes with new challenges too. And in recent years, those challenges have appeared to reach critical mass, with anxiety and depression both on the rise among Canada’s university students.

According to a survey of Ontario university students by the American College Health Association, between 2013 and 2016, this student population experienced a 50% increase in anxiety, a 47% increase in depression, and a 47% increase in suicide attempts. And according to a recent report in The Globe and Mail, a fifth of Canadian postsecondary students now report being depressed, anxious, or otherwise struggling with their mental health.


What is behind the issue?

The number of challenges that students face can be immense. Many new university students feel great pressure to choose what will be the “correct” course for their adult life as they navigate through their studies. Throw in a new school system to adjust to with a heavy load of coursework, shifting and unfamiliar new social groups, family pressures to perform well, and easy access to drugs and alcohol—and university can quickly become a challenging situation for students.

For international students, there are even more factors that can lead to feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety: language barriers, culture shock, and being far from one’s familiar support network can all exacerbate a student’s struggles with their mental health.

According to one medical director of student health, interviewed by the Toronto Star, there may be yet another factor behind this increase: as universities work to decrease mental health stigma and increase access to services, many young people who come on campus are finding themselves in a supportive situation where they can seek help that was not previously available to them in their former schools or home country. A similar phenomenon can occur with international students, many of whom may come from a culture where mental health is much more stigmatized than it is in Canada.

One thing is clear, however: as the need for student mental health support is on the rise, universities are being forced to respond. A survey by the Toronto Star and the Ryerson School of Journalism found that universities’ mental health budgets have increased by an average of 35% as they attempt to meet the rising demand from their students.


How can students cope?

As research into the rise of anxiety and depression among students continues, universities are working to provide a variety of resources to help them. In many cases, students are forced to look outside their university system for the support they need as a lot of schools are short-staffed in the counselling services department and the availability to see a school-provided counsellor can be extremely tight.

As a result, wait lists for university counselling services can be quite long—one student interviewed by the Toronto Star cited a nearly four-year wait before she was given access to a school counsellor. With the demand greatly outpacing the current supply, on-campus counselling is being supplemented by other services to help students get the support they need.

In many cases, student-run initiatives are stepping up to fill the gaps. One such example is peer support centres, which are student-run and allow for students to talk to someone who can sympathize with their situation. Students have also taken to social media, writing blogs and articles where they can share their experiences and connect with each other.

And students are continuing to advance this issue. At the University of Waterloo, one recent graduate has created mental health support kits that will be handed out to all new first-year students to help start the conversation on supporting mental health.

For students seeking help off campus, local community groups can be a good solution—either for mental health support specifically, or for finding a social space where students can connect and relax. Meeting new people with shared interests and finding a hobby to dedicate one’s energies to can be a good way to balance out the stress of the school year.

And hobbies involving physical activity can be an extra dose of help, with exercise being touted as an important factor in maintaining mental health—according to CAMH, physical and mental health are linked, with those suffering from chronic physical pain more likely to experience mood disorders and vice versa. What’s more, engaging in physical fitness activities, even just for 30 minutes, releases feel-good chemicals and increases blood and oxygen flow to your brain.

Technology is also stepping up to offer mental health support. There are a plethora of new mental health apps that can help students to manage their day-to-day anxieties and stay on top of their mental health needs.

For students who have insurance benefits, you may also be covered up to a certain amount for psychologist or social worker visits should you need them. Consult the fine print of your policy to find out what you’re eligible for, or give your insurer a call for more information.


Here’s how StudyInsured can help

With mental health awareness growing among students, young people are seeking more ways to get the mental health support they need. That’s why we designed our Stay Healthy at School program to break down barriers that keep students from getting the right mental health support.

The Stay Healthy at School program addresses the wide variety of issues that international students face, including homesickness, academic stress, language barriers, depression and anxiety, addiction and substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress. It includes a 24/7 dedicated mental wellness phone line, available in 180 languages, that gives students anytime access to counselling support from qualified counsellors with years of clinical experience.

The program also offers comprehensive online resources and health articles to help students navigate the Canadian health care system and proactively manage both their physical health and their mental wellness.

Understanding the difficulties students face, this program is designed for international students and their families as it helps to bridge that gap between Canadian university students and effective mental health support.

Are you an international student? Let us help you feel at home while you study abroad. We cover all your health insurance needs, give you easily accessible resources for navigating the healthcare systems, provide physical and mental wellness support through the Stay Healthy at School program, 24/7 claim services should you need assistance, and much more. For more information, visit, call us at 1-855-649-4182 or email us at



CAMH. Mental Illness and Addiction: Facts and Statistics.

Canadian Mental Health Association. Fast Facts about Mental Illness.

The Canadian Press. Student-led mental health initiatives shift supports on campus. CBC News, August 28, 2018.

Cribb, Robert, Novella Ovid, David Lao, and Blair Bigham. Demand for youth mental health services is exploding. How universities and business are scrambling to react. The Toronto Star, May 29, 2017.

Nichols, Hannah. Top 10 Mental Health Apps. Canadian Mental Health Association, February 12, 2018.

Pang, William. Peace of mind: universities see spike in students seeking mental-health help. The Globe and Mail, October 17, 2017.

Ponciano, Carmen. University of Waterloo students to get mental health kits this fall. CBC News, August 13, 2018.

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