TORONTO – A new survey suggests video game addiction and psychological distress are on the rise among Ontario middle and high school students.
A study by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto says more than one in three students in Grades 7 to 12 reported experiencing high levels of psychological distress, which is defined as symptoms of depression and anxiety, last year.
Dr. Robert Mann, who co-led the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, says that represents a 10-per-cent jump since the last study two years earlier.
The study also found that 13 per cent of participating students reported symptoms of a video gaming problem, including preoccupation, loss of control, withdrawal and disregard for consequences.
That’s up from nine per cent in 2007, the first year that problem video gaming was monitored.
The centre says problem video gaming is especially prevalent among boys, with 20 per cent reporting symptoms, compared with five per cent of girls.
More than 10,400 students from 220 Ontario schools participated in last year’s Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, which is the longest-running school survey of teens in Canada.
Levels of psychological distress were measured using a six-item screening tool. Students were asked how often they felt nervous, hopeless or worthless, among other things, in the last four weeks.
Teenage girls were twice as likely to express high levels of distress – 46 per cent did, compared with 23 per cent of boys.
“This is a significant number of young people, especially girls, who are experiencing high levels of psychological distress,” Mann said in a statement.
“While we can’t say for certain what is causing this distress, it’s important for parents, schools and health-care providers to be aware of what young people are telling us about their mental health,” he said. “Our research indicates that the later teen years into the twenties is the peak period of stress for many people.”
Researchers also suggested that time spent in front of a screen may affect teens’ health.
The study showed that nearly two-thirds of students spent three or more hours each day in front of a television, tablet or computer, while less than a quarter met the recommended daily physical activity guidelines.
What’s more, 86 per cent of students said they visit social media sites daily and about 16 per cent spend five hours or more on social media every day, the study found.
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“We know that the more time spent on social media sites, the greater the risk of cyberbullying and related mental health issues,” said Dr. Hayley Hamilton, who co-led the study.
“Combined with low levels of physical activity across this age group, we are seeing clear priority areas where we can work with youth to improve health.” .