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Our Kids Feel Safe in Our Schools

Apr 04, 2018 Editor

BC Adolescent Health Survey is underway again in our secondary schools

by Michele Murphy

Unlike the sad, crazy-making situation that our neighbours to the south have created and that some are so passionately and bravely trying to change, a 2013 survey in Southern Vancouver Island high schools concludes that our youth feel safe in their schools (and most safe in the school library).

The sixth BC Adolescent Health Survey is underway as our Grade 7-12s participate in the province-wide questionnaire. The six-month-long survey process has taken place every five years since 1992 and gathers information from our youth about emerging youth health issues and track trends over time.

The survey asks the young participants how they feel about their current physical and emotional health; what, if any, risky behaviours and/or health promoting practices they may take part in; and about their feelings on safety, relationships, and engagement in a variety of activities. It touches on everything from injury prevention to bullying, body image to neighbourhood safety, family relationships to sleep, and abuse to nutrition.

Once collected and reported out, the survey findings are then used by schools, PACS, communities, government agencies, health professionals, and by youth themselves in planning and evaluating programs and services for our more than 260,000 youth in BC schools.

“We realize that mental health and wellness is a serious issue that many of our students are dealing with and we are committed to continuing to address their needs.” Edith Loring-Kuhanga, SD61 Board Chair

McCreary Centre Society conducts the surveys in collaboration with several BC government ministries, and with the cooperation of BC’s school districts. The Society is a Vancouver-based non-government, not-for-profit committed to improving the health of B.C. youth through research and community-based projects.

Trained public health nurses administer the survey questions in the nearly 2,000 BC schools. The adolescent health survey covers factors that are believed to both promote healthy development as well as behaviours that may compromise health.

The last survey was done in 2013 and the results were published in 2014. The survey results are compared to the findings of previous surveys, and provincial averages.

In 2013 the majority of Southern Vancouver Island’s grade 7–12 students reported good physical and mental health. The majority also saidthat they felt connected to their family, school and community; had positiv

e plans for the future; and were engaging in health promoting behaviours, which will assist them to transition successfully to adulthood.

There were other bright signs for our Southern Vancouver Island students when comparing the 2013 report to the 1998 report such as a decrease in the percentage of youth trying alcohol, marijuana, or tobacco; the students also reported feeling safer at school; fewer students said that they went to bed hungry due to lack of money for food; and most, if not all students expected to graduate.

There were however some areas that need attention with mental health being the most concerning. 

The 2013 survey showed that while local male students were less likely to miss out on needed mental health care than they were five years previously, there was no such improvement for our female students. As well, the percentage of students who did not seek necessary mental health care because they did not want their parents to know rose from 45% in 2008 to 63% in 2013. Further to that female youth were more likely than male youth to report a mental health condition (such as depression or anxiety). They were also more likely than males to report extreme stress, extreme despair, self-harm, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts.

Results of the 2013 survey also linked sleep to mental health, highlighting that a majority of local students (77%) were doing something such as homework or using a smart device after the time they were expected to be asleep.

The 2013 report hit home the importance of supportive relationships with peers and adults including family, teachers, community members, and other professionals.

Saanich Voice Online asked representatives from both Saanich (SD63) and Victoria (SD61) School Districts if they were expecting to see an improvement in the student’s reporting of their overall mental health or of their seeking care for their mental health challenges in the 2018 survey results. And if so, why. What, if anything, has been done to address the identified issues since the last report was released in 2014.

In response Victoria School Board Chairperson Edith Loring-Kuhanga said, “We realize that mental health and wellness is a serious issue that many of our students are dealing with and we are committed to continuing to address their needs.”

Loring-Kuhanga listed several new initiatives that were introduced as a result of the 2013 survey results. They included:

  • having at least one Social Emotional Wellness Advocate in all SD61 schools;
  • a Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) lead in all SD61 schools;
  • suicide ideation training for school counsellors;
  • working closely with the VPD School Liaison officers and with Child and Youth Mental Health professionals to ensure SD61 counsellors are aware of community supports and services and are up-to-date on community challenges;
  • regularly meet with neighbouring districts, the Ministry of Children and Family Development, and Island Health to plan and offer proactive mental health sessions for staff;
  • working with community partners to offer Parent Education evenings.

We will update the story here as responses are received from the Saanich School District.

The results of the 2018 survey can be expected in 2019.