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A new survey of Canadian university and college students finds many have struggled with mental health issues, while a disturbing number have also faced unwanted sexual advances and assaults.

The findings come from the National College Health Assessment survey, a self-reported, online survey that received responses from more than 43,000 students from over 41 colleges and universities.

Of the students who completed the survey last spring, nearly 68 per cent were female, 29 per cent male, while close to three per cent described themselves as “non-binary.”

Among the survey’s findings in the areas of dating and sexual violence:

  • Close to 11 per cent of students said they had experienced unwanted sexual touching without their consent within the last year
  • 10.5 per cent of students indicated being in an emotionally abusive intimate relationship
  • 6.7 per cent of students had experienced stalking in the last year
  • 4.6 per cent of the females reported a sexual penetration attempt without their consent within the last years, while another 2.5 per cent reported an actual penetration without consent

Sexual activity

The survey also found that many of the respondents were either not sexually active or monogamous:

  • Close to 32 per cent reported having no sexual partners in the last year
  • Another 45 per cent reported having had one sexual partner in the last year
  • 14 per cent reported having three or more partners in the last year

The survey also found 31.6 of respondents reported never having had vaginal sex, while 29.7 reported never having had oral sex. The mean age of the respondents was 22.9 years old.

Mental health

In the area of mental health, 46.9 per cent of students considered themselves to be “flourishing,” meaning they were experiencing positive mental health.

But others were struggling with mental health:

  • 18.4 per cent of respondents reported having been diagnosed or treated for anxiety in the last year
  • 14.7 per cent had been diagnosed or treated for depression
  • 13.0 per cent of students reported seriously considering suicide within the last 12 months.

The results were released on the same day that a new survey from Kids Help Phone suggests that one in five Canadian teens has seriously considered attempting suicide in the previous year.

The survey found that 22 per cent of more than 1,300 respondents thought about taking their own life, and almost half had also formulated a plan.

Drinking and smoking

When it came to drinking, 69.3 per cent of students reported having had alcohol within the last 30 days, including 55.4 per cent who had had a drink in the last week.

But many students who completed the survey assumed that almost all their peers were drinking.

The survey found that respondents perceived that 95 per cent of their peers had used alcohol within the last 30 days. In fact, the survey found 15 per cent had never had alcohol at all, while another 15 per cent had not had a drink within the last month.

As for smoking, 73 per cent of students said they had never tried it. Only 5.8 per cent said they had smoked within the last nine days.

The survey results were released through the Canadian Association of College & University Student Services. It says the data will help inform health and wellness programming and initiatives at post-secondary institutions within Canada.

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