Anxiety Disorders Association of Ontario

Anxiety and Youth


  • Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental health problems for children and youth. In 2009, 4% of youth (12 to 19 years) and 5.8% of young adults (20 to 29 years) in Canada were diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. These rates were higher among young women and Aboriginal people.
  • Between 15% and 25% of Canadians experience at least one mental health problem or illness before they turn 19 years of age. These youth have a higher likelihood than others of facing a second one later in their lifetime.
  • Only one in six people under the age of 19 is properly diagnosed, and only one in five individuals under the age of 12 years receives adequate treatment.
  • Mental health and mental illness can affect an individual’s well-being throughout their entire life. Positive mental health is correlated with a higher likelihood of completing school, positive social relations, higher levels of self-confidence, and increased resilience in youth and young adults.

Source: Martha Butler & Melissa Pang, Current Issues in Mental Health in Canada: Child and Youth Mental Health, Publication no. 2014-13, Parliamentary Information and Research Service, Library of Parliament, Ottawa, 5 March 2014.

City of Ottawa Survey

In 2009, students in grades 7 to 12 across Ottawa shared their experience with mental health:

  • One in ten students rated their own mental health as poor or fair.
  • One in four students reported being bullied at school.
  • 40% of students felt constantly under stress.
  • One in four students had visited a mental health professional in the past year.
  • Approximately 8% of students stated that they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.

In addition, one in three street-involved youth (aged 15 to 24 years) rated their mental health as poor or fair.

Source: City of Ottawa Public Health, Physicians’ Update, Special Issue on Mental Health, No. 91, April 2012.

Signs of Anxiety in Youth

Adolescence is a time of self-discovery and experimentation. It is not uncommon for youth to display emotions such as moodiness, irritability, and impulsiveness; or to experiment with drugs and alcohol. Youth often have to deal with many social pressures and worries, which may affect their self-esteem and sense of identity.  At what point do these “normal” manifestations of development in adolescence become a sign of an anxiety disorder?

Children or youth may need professional help if they are so overwhelmed by their anxieties and fears that they have trouble functioning socially and/or academically.  Common signs of an anxiety disorder in youth include:

  • Crying a lot
  • Constantly worrying about grades
  • Always trying to be perfect/being afraid to make mistakes
  • Not sleeping well/having nightmares
  • Being afraid of the dark
  • Worrying about something horrible happening to loved ones
  • Feeling like you’re going crazy
  • Obsessing about dying
  • Avoiding friends or social situations
  • Being afraid of speaking up and asking questions in class
  • Blanking out or freezing up in stressful situations

The persistence of these signs over time may be indicative of an anxiety disorder, particularly if these situations interfere with daily life.


Research and Advocacy on Youth Mental Health

The Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Youth Council is made up of youth aged 18 to 30 years with lived experience of mental health problems or illnesses, either personally or through a loved one. The purpose of the Youth Council is to increase youth participation in service delivery and policy making with respect to youth mental health systems in Canada.

Information For Youth: How Can I Get Immediate Help for My Anxiety?

If you are a young person and think you have an anxiety disorder, talk about it to: a parent or other relative, teacher, counsellor, crisis phone line, doctor, or any other adult you trust.

If you are contemplating suicide, harm to yourself, or harm to someone else, please call 911 or ask someone to take you to the emergency department of a hospital immediately.

For other non-urgent or semi-urgent situations, there are many resources available to you:


Crisis lines provide support for individuals who are experiencing a crisis, and for their family members, guardians, service providers, caregivers, and friends. They are a great resource for immediate supportive listening and crisis counselling, for information on community service providers, for referrals to services, for short-term follow up services, and (in some cases) for home-based interventions.

Here is a list of hotlines from across Ontario that offer help with mental health issues. If you are under 18, particularly note the Kid’s Help Phone and, for people in Ottawa, the Youth Services Bureau of Ottawa Crisis Line.

Here is a helpful article aimed at parents whose teenage children struggle with anxiety, focusing on causes of anxiety that are often specific to teenagers.

In-Person Resources

Here is a list of places in Ontario that offer in-person mental health treatment services.

If you don’t know where to start or if there are no anxiety-specific centres in your area, the first step to finding help can be a walk-in clinic. Doctors at walk-in clinics can talk to you about options and provide referrals to other local services that will help with anxiety.

Here is a website that can help you find walk-in clinics across Ontario.

This website provides a list of walk-in clinics across Eastern Ontario that offer immediate, free, walk-in counseling services.

Self-help Exercises

Here is a collection of audio files that can talk you through psychological exercises that help with anxiety. These include breathing exercises, progressive relaxation exercises, mindfulness and meditation exercises, body scans, yoga, and visualization. These can help to get you through an immediate bout of anxiety as you work on other steps in getting treatment.

Further Reading

Dr. Michael Cheng, MD, Overcoming Anxiety: Guide for Families.

K. Kellie Leitch, Reaching for the Top: A Report by the Advisor on Healthy Children and Youth, Catalogue no. H21-296/2007E, Health Canada, Ottawa, 2007.

Dr. Anand Prabhu, “Helping Children Cope with Fear and Anxiety,” Health Stories, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) – Information and strategies for parents of children living with anxiety

Public Health Agency of Canada, “The Current Health of Canada’s Youth and Young Adults,” in The Chief Public Health Officer’s Report on the State of Public Health in Canada, 2011: Youth and Young Adults – Life in Transition.