Ladysmith a safer, happier, healthier place for teens

McCreary survey of central island area says things are improving for high school students

Ladysmith Secondary School students Shelby Dorman-Banks

Ladysmith Secondary School students Shelby Dorman-Banks

Our kids are happier, healthier and less likely to be taking drugs than they were five years earlier.

That is the broad interpretation of the findings of a study on Vancouver Island teens conducted in 2013 and released last month.

Undertaken by the McCreary Centre Society, a Vancouver-based non-profit youth health organization, the study focused on Grade 7 to 12 students in the Cowichan, Nanaimo, Qualicum and Alberni school districts and followed on the heels of similar surveys in 2003 and 2008.

“We have seen great local improvements in areas such as substance use that show young people are making some good choices about their health,” McCreary Society executive director Annie Smith said.

The centre does not release the results on a school by school basis, so a specific breakdown for Ladysmith was unavailable.

But overall, it showed a majority of local high school students felt connected to their family, school, and community; had positive plans for the future; and were engaging in health promoting behaviours which will assist them to transition successfully to adulthood.

Among the specific improvements from 2008 to 2013:

• Fewer students are needing physical medical attention (29% instead 35%)

• Fewer students are missing out on needed mental and physical health care treatment (9% instead 15%)

• The percentage of students experimenting with tobacco dropped (from 30% to 24%)

• The percentage of students experimenting with marijuana dropped (from 40% to 30%)

• The percentage of students experimenting with alcohol dropped (from 64% to 53%)

Meanwhile, the percentage of students experiencing forms of harassment dropped, and a higher percentage of youth reported they felt safe compared to any previous study year.

And 86% of students surveyed considered themselves in good or excellent physical health, and 80% in good or excellent mental health

While those findings are all positive, survey organizers are concerned there has been no improvement in one of the most crucial areas: the amount of suicides and incidents of self-harm.

The survey showed 22% of females and 7% of males had deliberately harmed themselves without the intention of killing themselves in the past year.

Another area that raised red flags was lack of sleep. According to Smith that could have serious repercussions.

“We see a direct relationship between getting enough sleep and positive mental health, yet 45% of local students did not get eight hours of sleep on the night before taking the survey and over three-quarters were online or on their phone after their parents expected them to be asleep,” she said.

The 130-question survey was designed to consider emerging youth health issues and to track trends in risky behaviour and healthy practices over time.

Some other findings:

• 70% identified as “European,” 14% as “Aboriginal

• 70% spoke only English at home

• 81% of students identified as “completely straight,” 5% as gay, lesbian or bisexual

• 82% lived with their mother/stepmother most of the time, while 68% said the same about their father/stepfather

• 4% live, or have lived in some form of government care

Read the entire report at http://www.mcs.bc.ca.