Snapshot of youth and mental health

McCreary Centre Adolescent Health Survey offers insights into mental health and young people

You might recall that before Christmas we had started a series on the McCreary Centre Adolescent Health Survey (2008 results) which asks students in grades 7-12 various questions about their lives, everything from exercise to eating habits to their mental well-being. We have written on weight and body image, exercise and healthy living, and home and family, and this week we will continue in that series with the centre’s findings on mental and emotional health.

Why would a youth’s mental and emotional health warrant further investigation with this survey? Well, because mental health is as important as physical health – they go hand in hand, you see.  And because we want to highlight areas where we can help adolescents be even healthier, and helping them feel better and think clearer are right up there. Not to mention program development, awareness campaigns geared towards decreasing stigma, and mental health literacy promotion.

The survey asked questions relating to a youth’s self-esteem, and the majority of youth reported positive outcomes. 87% of youth surveyed agreed with the statement “I usually feel good about myself”; 92% positively endorsed “I am able to do things as well as most other people”; 77% said “I feel I have much to be proud of”; and 86% of youth reported that they felt as though their life was useful.

There were also questions relating to stress. 82% of youth report feeling some type of stress or pressure in the last 30 days; 13% said Almost more than they could take; 19% said they were experiencing Quite a bit of pressure; 18% said they were feeling A little more than usual stress; 31% thought their stress Was about the same; and 19% said that they were Not feeling any pressure or stress at all.

Another survey finding was that 6% of students indicated feeling so much despair (sad, discouraged, hopeless) that they wondered if anything was worthwhile, however 54% of students reported no such feelings. That might correlate with the fact that for the first time since 1992 suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts were lower. 11% of students reported seriously considering suicide in the past year, which was comparable to the provincial rate; and 4% of students attempted suicide in the part year, which was also similar to the provincial rate. The survey also commented on some possible risk factors for suicide attempts, stating that youth who had a family or friend attempt suicide, a history of sexual abuse, a history of physical abuse, those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning, or who have a health condition or disability were more likely to attempt suicide.

The survey also asked youth their most common reasons for not accessing mental health services (among the youth who felt they needed such services):

• 55% thought or hoped the problem would go away

• 44% didn’t want their parents to know

•  34% didn’t know where to go

• 22% were afraid that someone might see them

• 20% were afraid of what the doctor might say or do

• 12% didn’t think they could afford it

• 10% had no transportation

• 8% said their parent or guardian wouldn’t take them

This statistic resonates with me, partly because I am a provider of these services, and partly because of the empathy one feels in hearing that kids aren’t getting the help they need.

Fortunately, Chilliwack is leading the way with its’ Mental Health Literacy programs that operate within each local high school aimed at increasing awareness, decreasing stigma, increasing access to appropriate resources, and peer-to-peer mentoring.

The question we need to ask ourselves is: What are we as a community, as educators, and as parents and family members doing to make a positive difference in the lives of the children and youth in Chilliwack so that the positive trends that have been reported in the health survey continue?

Eryn Wicker (M.A., R.C.C.) is a mental health clinician with the Child and Youth Mental Health team with the Ministry of Children and Family Development in Chilliwack, B.C.