Youth Challenges in the Post-COVID Era – Insights from Karto Signals’ August Briefing

Jesse Donaldson
January 31, 2024
Preview 'Karto Signals': an insightful monthly briefing exploring critical social issues like youth well-being, mental health, vaping, and substance use. Access valuable data, resources, and discussions to address public health challenges post-COVID.

Welcome to this preview of Karto Signals, our monthly briefing focused on pressing issues in social infrastructure. Although usually exclusive to Karto subscribers and HelpSeeker clients, this month’s focus on youth wellbeing is available for wider access.

To read the complete Karto briefing, including two more in-depth signals, download now.

About Karto Signals

Karto Signals is a community centered around monthly briefings on urgent social topics. In addition to the briefing, participants are invited to a closed-door virtual session to discuss the featured topic. These sessions offer a platform to learn from each other, share experiences, and discuss promising practices, enriching the broader conversation.

This month’s full briefing delves into critical issues such as mental health, vaping, and substance use among youth. It features links to over 50 academic resources, new data, charts, and figures for a comprehensive view.

If you’re interested in joining future Karto Signals discussions, please contact our partnerships team at

August’s Karto Signals: The Wellbeing Of Children And Youth Post-COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a far-reaching impact on the mental health of young people. We’ve seen a concerning increase in depression, anxiety, and distress, exacerbated by disruptions in education. Alarming trends include a rise in suicidal behaviors and eating disorders among youth. The effects of the pandemic are also unequally distributed, hitting lower-income families harder.

Signal #1 Preview: Vaping Among Youth: A Complex Public Health Challenge

Vaping has increasingly become a significant public health issue, particularly among young Canadians. Recent data show that nearly one in three teens aged 15-19 have tried vaping. Furthermore, 13% of teens in the same age bracket and 17% of young adults aged 20-24 have reported vaping in the past month.

Flavors and Accessibility

One of the driving factors behind this trend is the availability of flavored vapes. A majority of users—65%—prefer fruit flavors and often acquire vapes through social sources, which makes regulation a significant challenge. Alarmingly, it is easy for young people to purchase flavored vapes online, pointing to a need for more robust online regulation.

Health Risks

The misconception that vaping is a safer alternative to smoking is widespread, yet unfounded. Vaping carries its own set of risks, including increased exposure to nicotine, which is particularly rewarding and addictive for adolescents. This exposure can lead to a range of long-term impacts such as deficits in cognition, attention, and emotional regulation. It also makes youths more susceptible to using other drugs later in life.

Risk and Protective Factors

Risk factors that increase the likelihood of vaping include substance use, risky behaviors, and conditions like ADHD. On the other hand, protective factors that can mitigate these risks include strong parental supervision and good academic performance. A worrying development is the portrayal of positive messaging around substance use on social media, which can further normalize vaping among youth.

The Need for a Multifaceted Response

Addressing the rise in vaping requires a comprehensive approach that involves healthcare, education, and community support. It’s essential to reframe substance use, including vaping, as a public health issue rather than a moral failing, enabling more effective strategies for intervention.

Signal #2 Preview: Illicit Drug Use: A Closer Look At The Data And Trends

Prevalence and Types of Substance Use

While harder substances like ecstasy and cocaine see lower usage rates, alcohol and cannabis are more commonly used among young people. Specifically, 24.9% of students in grades 7-9 and an astounding 63.5% in grades 10-12 report alcohol use. Cannabis use also shows a significant jump from 7% in grades 7-9 to 29.4% in grades 10-12. More grimly, in British Columbia, overdoses have become the leading cause of death for youth aged 10-18, primarily involving the opioid fentanyl. Between 2017 and 2022, 142 youths under 19 died from toxic drugs in BC.

National Scope and Service Gaps

This issue isn’t confined to one province. About 14% of pediatricians across Canada have treated a child or youth for severe substance use issues, with an estimated 600 cases nationwide. This problem spans urban, suburban, and rural areas, and many healthcare providers lack awareness of local substance use treatment options, highlighting a need for improved infrastructure.

Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic

The pandemic has led to a decline in substance use among youth, likely due to school closures and lockdowns limiting both access and unsupervised interactions. However, the long-term effects of this decline remain to be seen.

Monitoring, Risk Factors, and Local Government Role

Ongoing monitoring has revealed five distinct drug use patterns in Ontario since the 1970s, emphasizing the need for continued vigilance. A variety of risk factors contribute to substance use, from individual and family circumstances to broader community and systemic influences. Even as health remains a provincial responsibility, municipalities can play a key role in prioritizing prevention and improving access to mental health services.

Addressing this issue calls for a multi-pronged strategy that includes healthcare, education, and community organizations. Such a strategy could be made a priority in procurement criteria, helping to fill existing service gaps.

Further Exploration

This blog post serves as a short preview of the first two signals from this month’s Karto briefing.

Our complete briefing delves deeper into additional signals, including the double-edged role of social media in the lives of young people. While it offers platforms for expression and connection, it also poses risks such as cyberbullying, with experiences varying based on gender, sexuality, and Indigeneity. Another pressing issue is the alarming rise in eating and feeding disorders among youth, demanding immediate attention and resources.

Typically, our full Karto Signals briefing is available exclusively to subscribers. However, given the urgency of these topics, we are making this month’s edition accessible to all. If you’re interested in receiving future editions, please contact our partnerships team at

To read the complete Karto briefing, including two more in-depth signals, download now.

Never miss a beat.

Stay updated on current and upcoming products, new blog posts, and webinars with our newsletter.