Youth Risk Behaviour survey indicates teens are engaging in risky behaviour
Teenagers in the region are being bullied, struggling with mental health issues and experimenting with drugs, alcohol and tobacco, according to a report released by the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) on Thursday, April 19.
According to Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, chief medical officer of health with the EOHU, the Youth Risk Behaviour survey was administered to more than 3,509 students in grades seven to 12 in the EOHU's catchment area.
A total of 49 schools across the region participated in the survey, which was administered from November 2010 to March 2011.
"This survey helps us to understand the issues and risks youth are facing today," he commented.
When it comes to physical activity and nutrition, 10 per cent of youth surveyed said they never or almost never eat breakfast, while three per cent responded that they never or almost never eat lunch.
In terms of physical activity, 40 per cent of respondents reported meeting or exceeding levels of physical activity set out by Canada's Physical Activity Guide to Healthy Active Living, while 24 per cent of respondents reported being slightly or very overweight.
Sixty-three per cent of youth reported drinking alcohol, 19 per cent reported trying smoking and 25 per cent reported trying marijuana, while 16 per cent identified themselves as regular users of the drug.
The most alarming results for health unit officials though, were the responses to questions about mental health and suicide.
According to Robyn Hurtubise, program manager for injury prevention and substance abuse with the EOHU, this year marked the first time students were asked questions about issues such as mental health, bullying and suicide.
"We've done the survey in the past but these types of questions were not included," Hurtubise told The Review in an interview last week. "The data was very eye-opening for us and yes, worrisome at the same time."
According to the survey, one in seven teen girls contemplated committing suicide in the last year. Additionally, 12 males in grades 7 to 11 contemplated suicide in the past year.
Of the students surveyed, 491 girls and 280 boys considered suicide in the last year.
The survey also indicated that 315 girls surveyed made suicide plans in the last year and 210 actually made a suicide attempt, while 175 boys made plans and 105 boys attempted suicide.
Of the students surveyed, 35 in both genders required medical treatment as a result of a suicide attempt.
A total of 26 per cent of youth reported having depressive symptoms, 11 per cent reported seriously considering suicide, seven per cent reported planning suicide and four per cent made a suicide attempt but did not required medical treatment.
Twenty-five of students reported having been bullied on school property, while 18 per cent reported having experienced cyber bullying.
Roumeliotis told The Review he finds the statistics "quite worrisome" particularly since this is the first year questions about mental health and suicide were on the survey.
"Obviously, this is a big concern and we're learning that many teens in our region are dealing with some very tough mental health issues," he remarked. "Many teens are feeling depressed and going so far as to try to take their own lives. This is certainly an issue that requires attention and action to be taken."
Hurtubise said the health unit is working with a number of partners, including the Canadian Mental Health Association, to develop a strategy that targets teens and young adults dealing with mental health issues.
"We know there is a big correlation between depression and teens are not active or not getting proper nutrition," Hurtubise explained. "There are a number of factors at play that need to be examined so we can come up with an action plan to help these kids."
Roumeliotis said suicide prevention is a province-wide effort but at the local level, he is working with local school boards to develop tools that will help teachers, staff and parents better identify the signs that a teen may be in trouble.
"There are a number of signs and sometimes, adults aren't exactly sure what they're looking for," he explained. "The health unit wants to work with teachers and parents to help them better identify signs that a student may be suicidal or in need of support for mental health and other issues."
Roumeliotis said the health unit will continue to collect data to measure the effectiveness of the strategies it plans to implement.
To view the executive summary of the Youth Risk Behaviour Survey, visit the EOHU online at www.eohu.ca.