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New report paints bleak picture of challenges facing N.S. youth

HALIFAX – A new report says today’s young Nova Scotians face numerous tough challenges across many areas of everyday life.

The Vital Signs report, which was released Tuesday by the Community Foundation of Nova Scotia, provides a comprehensive snapshot of Nova Scotians under the age of 35.

It touches on subjects ranging from employment and housing to obesity and physical safety.

But the foundation’s executive director, Allison Kouzovnikov, said the most shocking numbers were on the subject of mental health.

“We discovered there that the situation is actually very troubling and it’s worsening over time and that really causes us a great deal of concern,” she said.

READ MORE: Mental Illness Week: Read the best Global News coverage

According to the report, one in five students in the province reported elevated depressive symptoms in 2007. By 2012, that number had risen to one in four.

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Statistics from 2012 also showed nearly 10 per cent of youth aged 15 to 24 had thought about suicide in the last year. That’s significantly higher than the national average of 5.8 per cent. In fact, Nova Scotia had the highest percentage in the country.

High school students say there are many factors that contribute to stress and mental health issues.

“Even society, it holds a high standard for kids,” said Grade 10 student Tony Poirier. “You have to look a certain way, you have to act a certain way, you have to hold a certain opinion. And if you differ from other people [they will] call you out.”

The executive director of Leave Out Violence Nova Scotia, a violence prevention program for youth, says the report’s statistics are alarming but not surprising.

“I do think there are a lot of young people who are struggling with depression, with suicidal ideation, with gender non-conformity, with things that are big,” said Sarah MacLaren

“They’re big for anyone to face in their lifetime. They’re particularly challenging when you’re having to face them early on in life.”

The group is now looking at the report and trying to figure out how they can do a better job tailoring its programs for students.

Rebecca Lau/ Global News

“I think it’s going to shift direction with some of our programs to maybe have some workshops related to suicide prevention and things like that,” said program co-ordinator Ryan Gannon.

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“We’ve already done a lot of that in the past and still plan on doing this.”

That’s ultimately the kind of action the report’s authors are hoping to see.

“We’d like to check back in five years and look at these data points again and hopefully see us moving in a different direction — in a very positive direction,” Kouzovnikov said.

Read the full report below: