Ses­sions to pro­vide men­tal­health guid­ance

Packet & Times (Orillia) - - FRONT PAGE - IAN MCINROY

The tran­si­tion for youth head­ing into high school has never been more dif­fi­cult.

Ac­cord­ing to the Sim­coe Muskoka District Health Unit, one in four stu­dents in high school feels he or she has fair to poor men­tal health, al­most dou­ble the rate while they are in grades 7 and 8.

The statis­tics come from an On­tario Stu­dent Drug Use and Health Sur­vey con­ducted in 2015.

“This is the first time we have been able to get a com­pre­hen­sive pic­ture of lo­cal youth health,” said Dr. Lisa Si­mon, as­so­ciate med­i­cal of­fi­cer of health with the health unit. “We know that the ado­les­cent years are tough ones, but there are some sit­u­a­tions here that are par­tic­u­larly strik­ing, and pose a longterm risk to their health.”

Stu­dents’ stress lev­els rise once they en­ter sec­ondary school, she added.

“This likely re­lates to the chal­leng­ing de­vel­op­men­tal stage of ado­les­cence, which in­cludes tran­si­tion in school en­vi­ron­ment, phys­i­cal growth and de­vel­op­ment, ma­tu­rity and re­la­tion­ships, and a time of ex­plo­ration, self-dis­cov­ery and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion,” Si­mon said.

Si­mon said stu­dents who rated their place in so­ci­ety in re­spect to money, ed­u­ca­tion and oc­cu­pa­tion as lower, re­ported worse men­tal health and lower rates of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and eat­ing break­fast daily.

“It is also strik­ing that more fe­males than males ex­pe­ri­ence poor men­tal health, high so­cial me­dia use and lower phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity lev­els,” she added. “Pat­terns that be­gin in ado­les­cence can per­sist into adult­hood, in­creas­ing the risk of poorer men­tal and phys­i­cal health in the long-term.”

Ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey, phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity rates are low and drop sig­nif­i­cantly once stu­dents get into high school and dur­ing school nights, barely a third of high school stu­dents are get­ting the re­quired eight hours of sleep.

When it comes to al­co­hol and drug use, older stu­dents are more likely to have tried mar­i­juana or other drugs.

Three-quar­ters of stu­dents in Grades 11 and 12 have con­sumed al­co­hol.

To­bacco use takes a ma­jor jump as well.

While 7% of stu­dents in Grades 9 and 10 re­ported smok­ing cig­a­rettes in the pre­vi­ous year, by Grades 11 and 12 it had risen to 18%.

Si­mon said the health unit is work­ing with school boards to de­velop pro­grams to off­set the trends of youth deal­ing with men­tal and phys­i­cal is­sues but that par­ents have a very im­por­tant role to play.

“They are the most im­por­tant in­flu­ence on their chil­drens’ pos­i­tive men­tal health, from birth and be­yond,” she said. “Par­ents can talk openly with their chil­dren, lis­ten to their feel­ings and show sup­port, and con­nect with com­mu­nity sup­ports and a health care pro­fes­sion­als if their chil­dren are fac­ing chal­lenges.”

The men­tal health and well­be­ing of stu­dents is “crit­i­cally im­por­tant and a chang­ing land­scape” for par­ents and staff in schools, ac­cord­ing to Pat Carney, se­nior psy­chol­o­gist and men­tal health lead for the Sim­coe Muskoka Catholic District School Board.

“Ev­ery day, our youth are faced with tremen­dous chal­lenges — from anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion to bul­ly­ing and ad­dic­tion — and the is­sues can be over­whelm­ing and some­times dif­fi­cult to deal with,” Carney said.

To that end, the board is host­ing youth men­tal health nights for par­ents in Barrie and Oril­lia next week. “These ses­sions will pro­vide par­ents with in­sights, sup­port and prac­ti­cal tools and tips which can help them nav­i­gate the some­times dif­fi­cult waters of youth men­tal health,” Carney added.

The ses­sions run on Nov. 20 at Patrick Fog­a­rty Catholic Sec­ondary School in Oril­lia from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and the fol­low­ing evening at St. Joseph’s Catholic High School in Barrie.


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