Over the past several years we have seen more attention paid to people’s mental health. It is not quite the ‘secret’ that was kept hidden and only discussed quietly, if at all. Fortunately, we are now recognizing the need for open conversations about an illness that affects far more of us than would have been admitted only a decade or two ago.
To that end, we acknowledge Mental Health Week from May 2 to 8, and Child and Youth Mental Health Day in BC on May 7.
There is an overall prevalence of 15% of mental health disorders among children and youth. This translates into some 140,000 of our young people facing significant distress. But are we talking about ‘feeling a little unhappy’ or something more? Definitely the latter.
One of the key findings is that female youth reported poorer mental health than their male counterparts. They were more likely to report extreme stress, extreme despair, self-harm and to consider or attempt suicide. Another group with higher risk were youth with a physical disability. Almost double the number in this group (17%) reported extreme stress compared to those without a physical disability.
Research showed that some youth self-medicate using substances. Indeed, 21% of youth who had used alcohol, marijuana or other substances reported that the last time they had done so was because they were stressed. Conversely, youth who had not used alcohol, marijuana or other substances reported better mental health than those who had.
Bullying, both in person and online, made it more likely that a youth would report negative mental health. Around half of females who were cyberbullied in the past year also self-harmed in that time (22% of males).
Having a job also influenced mental health. The more hours a youth worked, the less likely they were to report positive mental health. That said, having a job for a few hours a week was positive.
Finding and using mental health services for youth was uneven. Among youth who felt a need for those services, 11% did not access them (17% of females, 5% of males). The top reasons for missing out included not wanting their parents to find out, thinking or hoping the problem would go away, and being afraid of what the doctor would say or do.
Families can be a source of support for youth. More involvement such as eating meals together or having an adult in the family they could turn to both related to more positive mental health. Cultural connectedness was another positive factor. For example, youth who spoke a language other than English at home were more likely to report good or excellent mental health than those who spoke only English.
We should not be surprised to discover that children and youth are not all that different from adults. After all, while some of the challenges may differ, in the end we must all understand the importance of good mental health and recognize that each of us may need a little support.
Written by Dr. Paul Martiquet, Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.