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Studying Students’ Behavior in Ontario, Canada

For the first time, Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey Mental Health and Well-Being Report looked at “screen time,” or the amount of time students spend watching television or on the computer. The report found that nearly 10 percent of students in grades 7 to 12 spend an average of seven hours a day glued to computer or TV screens. The report also looked at how students rated their physical and mental health.

In 1999, 8.9 percent of students reported poor physical health, which increased to 14 percent in 2009. About 30 percent of students reported psychological distress, including feelings of depression and anxiety—this rate has stayed about the same since 1999. However, the number of students who sought mental health care during the past year doubled to 24 percent over the last decade.

The report also looked at obesity among students, and found that 25 percent of respondents (or about 246,000 in Ontario) were considered overweight or obese based on body mass index (BMI) calculations. The number of students reporting physical injury requiring treatment also increased from 35 percent in 1999 to 40 percent between 2003 and 2009. In addition, 34 percent of students said they had not seen a doctor in the past year.

CAMH senior scientist and lead investigator Dr. Robert Mann said that about 327,000 students expressed feelings of depression, anxiety, social dysfunction, and sleeping difficulties, and noted that the rate increased among older students.

In addition, 43 percent of students reporting gambling in 2009—including card playing, buying lottery tickets, and betting in sports pools—which is down from 57 percent in 2003, when the question was first added. Three percent of students reported having a gambling problem, compared with seven percent in 1999.

One in five students reported playing video games daily, and 10 percent of students show signs of video game addiction, reporting symptoms of compulsive playing, withdrawal, and loss of control. Dr. Bruce Ballon, head of CAMH’s Adolescent Clinical and Educational Services for Problem Gambling, Gaming and Internet Use, said that these trends could lead to future gambling problems and other harmful behavior.

Students were also asked about bullying. The report found that 25 percent of students said they had bullied other students; 29 percent said they had been bullied by other students. On a positive note, bullying victimization significantly decreased among 7th-grade students.

Dr. Mann noted that all of these factors seem to contribute to the overall health of students, and that there is a strong connection between physical well-being and mental health.

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