Nearly 40% of surveyed B.C. teens between 15 and 17 may have depression: SFU

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Urgent need for teen mental health supports in B.C.
A warning about the state of teenagers mental health in this province is being sounded. A Simon Fraser University report says there is a dire and urgent need for mental health supports targeted for teens. Kylie Stanton has more – Dec 8, 2023

Close to 40 per cent of surveyed B.C. teens between the ages of 15 and 17 screened positive for depression and generalized anxiety, new research from Simon Fraser University has found.

The provincial Youth Development Instrument report included data from 14,596 youth in 28 school districts and 28 independent schools across the province between 2022 and 2023.

Half of those aged 15 to 17 reported their mental as fair or poor, and more than a third of all teens surveyed reported needing professional health care in the last six months, but not seeking it.

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Report authors say the troubling findings highlight an “urgent” need for mental health supports and interventions for youth.

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In a Friday news release, Judy Wu, an SFU PhD student and coordinator for the Youth Development Instrument Youth Advisory Council, said input from young people is essential in this process.

“We know youth are facing a variety of unique stressors coming off the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and other global and community-level stressors such as the housing crisis in B.C.,” she said.

“However, systems also need to push beyond just learning about youth experiences — we need to work collaboratively to co-develop strategies that will support positive youth well-being and development.”

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The survey asked teens about their sources of wellbeing, such as sleep, physical activity and interpersonal relationships.

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Most agreed that schools have a supportive environment regarding mental health and 70 per cent reported having high friendship intimacy.

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Those who start school after 9 a.m. also reported significantly better mental health than those who started before 9 a.m. About 80 per cent overall said that participating in physical activity at school added to their wellbeing.

“What is always really interesting for us is to learn about protective factors and what we can do to better support young people,” said Dr. Hasina Samji, report co-author and assistant health sciences professor at SFU.

“Young people told us that to feel better, they really want to e able to spend a little bit more time outside and have more opportunities to do physical activity.”

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In September, the B.C. government announced $3 million in funding over three years to support a YMCA program helps teach youth between 13 and 30 to cope with stress and anxiety.

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At the time, Mental Health and Addictions Minister Jennifer Whiteside said young people in the province “have faced unprecedented challenges,” and more are reaching out for help than ever before.

In April, B.C. also allocated $236 million over three years from its latest budget to build 12 new Foundry centres for youth, offering mental health and addiction counselling, physical and sexual health care, peer support and social services.

Multi-disciplinary mental health support and substance-use services teams are further being added to seven school districts across the province.

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On Vancouver Island, students at Royal Bay Secondary School in Colwood weren’t surprised by the report’s findings on depression, anxiety and needing more support. Many identified the cost of living, housing and climate change as key stressors in their lives.

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“I just struggle with knowing what I want to do, I feel lost kind of,” said Christian Kendall, who is considering a career in software engineering.

“I worry about housing here, I don’t think I can live here forever because I just don’t think I can afford it when I graduate.”

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“I’m kind of worried about not being able to financially support myself in the future just because of how expensive things are getting,” added Kaylin Sol. “I do have anxiety and depression so that’s a worry in my future as well.”

Jasper Beaton said he’s stressed about housing, post-secondary education and somehow being able to afford both at the same time. He suffers from anxiety and called SFU’s findings “pretty accurate.”

“It’s also kind of a normal human thing — we all have issues,” Beaton said. “I kind of just try and look on the bright side, focus on my academics because I want to be successful and have a proper life when I’m older. Friends help with that too.”

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The Kids Help Phone line is available 24/7 across Canada to kids, teens and young adults in need of mental health support. It can be reached by calling 1-800-668-6868 or texting 686868.

A list of Child and Youth Mental Health teams across B.C. is available on the B.C. government web page.

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