Student anxiety numbers spike as new issues surface

Combined pressures cause students to enter anxiety spiral

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By MAIYA SUZUKI

The number of students suffering from anxiety has dramatically increased in recent years, hurting their academic performance and overall well-being, experts say.

A Statistics Canada study released in September 2023 showed the percentage of Canadians aged 15 and older diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder doubled from 2.6 per cent to 5.2 per cent between 2012 and 2022. For women, the number tripled from 3.8 per cent to a staggering 11.9 per cent.

Lack of sleep, loneliness and bad diets have long been the cause of stress for students. Today, ballooning inflation, crushing financial burdens and increased parental pressure are causing more anxiety, according to Andy Wilkins, a registered clinical counsellor located in Vancouver. He said previously, students would go to college to get a degree or diploma then figure out what they wanted to do next.

Changing times leads to more anxiety

Wilkins said now either the students are paying for themselves so they’re going into debt or parents are helping with tuition, which causes its own set of stressors.

“They have more influence over what the student’s studying,” he said, adding that students “don’t have that same autonomy, which can be stifling and anxiety provoking.”

Mikayla Gelz, a fifth-year geography student at UBC diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, said she struggles with academic comparison with her peers, which triggers her anxiety during the school year.

“School definitely makes me feel more anxious than being off or just working in the summer. And that’s because there’s kind of this like competitive aspect to it,” Gelz said. “But it’s hard not to compare yourself to other people and feel like you’re not doing enough.”

In 2022, the Canadian Association of College & University Student Services reported anxiety as a top concern for college students in Canada, including a 29 per cent increase in anxiety between 2018 and 2022, a majority of which was during COVID.

Anxious students shut themselves off

“Loneliness is going to make you more predisposed to anxiety,” Wilkins noted.

Registered clinical counsellor Karen Hamill said students stop focusing on self-care when they’re stressed.

“We stop eating, we stop exercising, we stay up too late,” she said. “All of the things that help us manage anxiety kind of go out the window.”

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