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B.C. youth struggling with mental health and overall well-being, survey finds

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A comprehensive look at the overall health and well-being of youth in British Columbia paints a troubling picture of post-pandemic life for young people.

According to the results of a province-wide survey, many youth feel stressed and overwhelmed, and are more likely to engage in risky behaviour.

Nearly 38,500 teens from 59 different school districts took part in the 2023 B.C. Adolescent Health Survey, which was conducted by the McCreary Centre Society.

"We're also seeing young people report having fewer friends, feeling less connected to school, less connected to community and being less engaged, for the most part, in some of their extra-curricular activities,” said Dr. Annie Smith, executive director of the team behind the survey. “I think that they're all really connected and linked to the pandemic."

Forty-one per cent of participants rated their mental health as poor or fair – compared with 60 per cent who said it was good or excellent.

Thoughts of suicide appear prevalent among B.C. teens, with 18 per cent saying they have seriously considered it and five per cent admitting to attempting to take their own lives in the last year.

One in four youth report always or often feeling lonely and 24 per cent of teens surveyed said they had cut or injured themselves intentionally within the last 12 months.

"We also saw among that, for the majority of those young people, it's not a one off,” Smith said. “They're doing it on multiple occasions. So, it's obviously a way of managing whatever is going on in their life."

The survey also showed substance use among teens down but those who do use are more likely to start at an early age.

And fewer teens are having sex, but those who do are less likely to use condoms or other forms of contraception.

Six per cent of the youth who took part identify as Indigenous, a group that has typically had higher negative responses in the survey which can often be linked to intergenerational trauma.

Talon Nadeau, who grew up in East Vancouver but traces his roots to the Piapot First Nation in Saskatchewan, wants to break that cycle.

The 20-year-old rapper is one of several youth who performed in a music video to coincide with the release of the survey results.

His rhymes are based on his personal experience and the struggles he has witnessed his peers go through.

“I didn’t know my dad growing up. You know my mom’s a fighter,” Nadeau said. “She’s a Sixties Scoop survivor so I get a lot of strength from her.”

Now that the data is available, other teams from McCreary Centre Society will comb through it to highlight issues that may be more prevalent among Indigenous youth and those who have spent time in the care of the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

Smith hopes health authorities, school districts and a variety of ministries within the provincial government will be able to use the results to improve overall health for young people in B.C.

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