Mental Health Disorder Information

Here, we outline mental illnesses that students may face. Below, you’ll find information about common symptoms and behaviours.

Canadians between the ages of 15 – 24 are identified as the greatest risk group for mental illness and inadequate mental health care. Post-secondary students face significant stress, which may negatively impact their mental health. Amongst post-secondary students, those from marginalized populations and indigenous backgrounds are more likely to exhibit anxiety, self-harm, and drug and alcohol use.

Disclaimer: please do not use our resources as a substitute for seeking professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are in need of immediate help, please contact a healthcare professional

Suicidal behavior: Data published by the Canadian journal of psychiatry states that 11% of postsecondary students face suicidal ideation. There are many behaviors that can indicate that someone is in the process of considering suicide and can be used to effectively identify those in need: 

  • Withdrawing and feeling isolated
  • Sleeping too little or too much 
  • Behaving anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly 
  • Talking about being burdensome to others 
  • Talking about being hopeless and not having a reason to live 
  • Increasing the use of alcohol and drugs 
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge 
  • Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself 

Self-Harm: Self-harm behaviors are often practiced to give a sense of relief, they are used as a means to stop feeling lonely, angry, or hopeless. 

  • Using sharp objects to inflict cuts 
  • Burning skin 
  • Poking objects in bodily openings 
  • Punching themselves or other objects 
  • Breaking bones or bruising themselves 

Eating disorders: Eating disorders entail behaviors resulting in significant weight gain or loss due to extreme emotions or attitudes towards food.  The peak onset of eating disorders is in populations between ages 15-25. 

Anorexia nervosa: considerable weight loss due to intense fear of weight gain even when underweight.

  • Excessive diet or exercise to lose weight. 
  • Being worried about weight or paying excessive attention to weight or shape 
  • Having a negative self-image 
  • Extreme cultural or social ideas about health and beauty 
  • Missed periods, refusal to admit the seriousness of weight loss 
  • Refusing to eat around others 
  • Going to the bathroom right after meals 
  • Using pills to urinate, have bowel movements or decrease appetite 
  • Loss of bone strength, poor memory or judgment 

Binge Eating: Eating much larger amounts of food in shorter periods of time than normal. Feelings of loss of control over eating. 

  • Overeating throughout the day 
  • Excessive snacking in addition to three meals a day 
  • Eating between 5000 – 15000 calories in a single sitting 

Bulimia: Binging on food or having regular episodes of overeating followed by vomiting or using laxatives to avoid weight gain 

  • Fear or guilt associated with eating followed by binge-purge episodes 
  • Forcing vomiting 
  • Excessive exercise 
  • Going to the bathroom right after meals 
  • Often at a normal weight, however, see themselves as overweight 

Substance use: Substance use disorders tend to co-occur with mental health problems and can result in addiction and further worsen mental illness  

  • Use of substances such as alcohol or drugs in co-occurrence with mental health issues 
  • Drop in attendance at school or work 
  • Frequently getting into trouble 
  • Secretive or suspicious behavior 
  • Unexplained changes in personality or attitude 
  • Fearful, anxious, or paranoid with no reason 
  • Unexplained need for money
  • Deterioration of physical appearance 

Anxiety disorders: Anxiety disorders occur due to persistent anxiety that can worsen with time. These disorders can jeopardize performance in multiple aspects of an individual’s life: 

Panic disorders: Due to severe anxiety that can result in the onset of panic attacks 

  • A sudden feeling of terror for no specific reason 
  • May avoid certain areas 
  • Provoked by high stress 
  • Sympathetic symptoms (Irregular heartbeat, chest pain, breathing difficulty) 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Uncontrollable recurring thoughts followed by the urge to repeat compulsions 

  • Repeated upsetting thoughts 
  • Repeated actions called compulsions are done in order to be relieved of thoughts 


Austin, A., Flynn, M., Richards, K., Hodsoll, J., Duarte, T. A., Robinson, P., … & Schmidt, U. (2021). Duration of untreated eating disorder and relationship to outcomes: A systematic review of the literature. European Eating Disorders Review, 29(3), 329-345

Hop Wo, N. K., Anderson, K. K., Wylie, L., & MacDougall, A. (2020). The prevalence of distress, depression, anxiety, and substance use issues among Indigenous post-secondary students in Canada. Transcultural Psychiatry, 57(2), 263-274.

Linden, B., Boyes, R., & Stuart, H. (2021). Cross-sectional trend analysis of the NCHA II survey data on Canadian post-secondary student mental health and wellbeing from 2013 to 2019. BMC public health, 21(1), 1-13

What to Look For . Home | (n.d.). Retrieved January 24, 2023, from 

Wiens, K., Bhattarai, A., Dores, A., Pedram, P., Williams, J. V., Bulloch, A. G., & Patten, S. B. (2020). Mental health among Canadian postsecondary students: a mental health crisis?. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 65(1), 30-35.