British Columbia's youth are showing improvements in mental health trends, according to a recent report released by the McCreary Centre Society. Its most recent findings were based on data pulled from the 2008 Adolescent Health Survey, which shows the majority of Grade 7 through 12 students across the province report positive mental health and low rates of mental health challenges such as despair, self-harm or suicidal thoughts.
"The findings clearly show us that when young people are in trouble they will reach out and ask their family, teachers, social workers and doctors for help - and if they get this help, they report much healthier outcomes than if they do not feel supported," said Annie Smith, executive director of the McCreary Centre Society. "It is not a complicated or expensive intervention to make sure we make time for young people when they approach us and ask for help."
Guidance counsellors at Sea to Sky schools said while the overall health of the youth populations is good - they are wary of general summations as mentioned in the report.
"I haven't noticed a trend that is consistent one way or another, every year we notice fluctuations," said Kevin Titus, a long-time guidance counsellor at Whistler Secondary School. "It's hard to say in terms of trends because every year is just so unique. We have some years where we have a lot of kids that have challenges and we have other years where there aren't so many. It goes in waves, in general those trends don't seem to have shifted that much."
The McCreary study stated that today's youth report lower rates of considering and attempting suicide compared to their peers at any time since 1992. However, 56 per cent of youth who reported a mental or emotional health condition said they had not accessed the mental health services they felt they needed in the past year.
Howe Sound Secondary School counsellor Peter Lang said while kids today are more in tune with their environment, mental health issues can persist regardless of socio-economic background.
"I think by and large kids have more savvy, they have more information, they understand the issues better than my generation did," he said. "We have a lot of wonderful kids, a good student population with great kids and in it we see a small percentage of the kids in school for what you might call mental health issues. It's not necessarily an indication if somebody is healthy or not, there are lots of kids that are on teams or 'A' students who have a lot of stress and anxiety in their lives and are struggling to cope with it."
Youth who could identify a positive skill they possessed and those who feel supported by the adults in their lives reported better mental health than their peers in the report. The data also showed that the more connected a youth feels to family or school, and the more positive their peer relationships, the more likely they were to indicate positive health.
"The fact that young people also report better mental health when they can report they are good at something, and when they feel engaged and valued in the activities they take part in also gives us a clear message," continued Smith. "We need to make sure that the most vulnerable students in our province who lack the resources to be engaged in expensive extracurricular activities get the opportunity to join in and excel at something, whether it is sports, clubs or the arts."
The McCreary Centre Society is a B.C. focused non-profit that has been conducting community-based research and projects addressing youth health issues since 1977.
The BC Adolescent Health Survey provides the most comprehensive picture of the physical and emotional health of B.C. youth. The survey was administered by Public Health Nurses in 50 of B.C.'s 59 school districts and included 147 questions asking youth about their perceptions of their current physical and emotional health, risky behaviour and health-promoting practices.