The Prevalence of Anxiety Among Middle and Secondary School Students in Canada

Lucia Tramonte, Doug Willms


Objectives: Adolescents’ anxiety is associated with individual and contextual characteristics. The purpose of this study is to estimate the prevalence of anxiety among adolescent youth in grades 6 to 12 and determine whether it is related to socio-economic status and perceptions of learning skills and challenges.

Methods: Nationally representative cross-sectional data from the Tell Them From Me survey – Fall 2008 assessment – were used for this study. Item response theory estimates and a cut-off point for anxiety were developed from six Likert items pertaining to anxiety. Csikszentmihalyi’s theory of flow was applied to create four different combinations of learning processes and students’ skills.

Results: Females had a higher prevalence of anxiety than males in both middle and secondary schools. The prevalence of anxiety did not vary substantially among schools for either middle or secondary schools. Less than one half of Canadian students can be considered “in flow”, that is, feeling confident in their skills and challenged in their classes. Students who lacked confidence in their skills were nearly twice as likely to experience anxiety.

Conclusion: The relation between students’ skills, the challenges presented to them at school and anxiety problems deserves attention by parents and school staff. Further research could examine the relationship between direct assessments of students’ skills and measures of teaching practices and school policies.

Key words: Anxiety; adolescents; skills; learning challenge; flow; TTFM survey; schools


anxiety; adolescents; skills; learning challenge; flow; TTFM survey; schools