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Smoking, drinking and mental health concerns for Coast youth found in survey

McCreary Report

Coast students are smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and using marijuana more than the provincial average and their mental health is a concern, according to the recent McCreary Centre Society report.

The report breaks down the provincial results of the society’s 2013 BC Adolescent Health Survey, which was taken by nearly 30,000 youth in grades 7 to 12. The Coast’s results are lumped in with the rest of the North Shore/Coast Garibaldi area which includes North Vancouver, West Vancouver, Powell River, Sea to Sky and the Central Coast.

In comparison to the rest of B.C., students in the North Shore/Coast Garibaldi area reported better nutrition and being more physically active; however, 52 per cent of local youth said they had tried alcohol, as compared to the provincial rate of 45 per cent.

Local kids are smoking cigarettes and using marijuana more than the provincial average, as well, with 25 per cent of youth saying they’ve tried smoking (compared to 21 per cent provincially) and 33 per cent saying they’ve tried marijuana (compared to 26 per cent provincially).

In the last McCreary survey completed in 2008, teens in this region reported the same levels of tobacco and marijuana use; however, more students said they had tried alcohol in 2008 — 60 per cent — compared to 52 per cent in 2013.

Even though the percentages were much lower, mental health was flagged as an area of concern for the North Shore/Coast Garibaldi region in 2013, particularly among girls.

A total of 22 per cent of females and 13 per cent of males rated their mental health as poor or fair (instead of good or excellent), and 20 per cent of females and eight per cent of males said they had cut or hurt themselves on purpose within the past year.

Females were also twice as likely as males to have thought seriously about suicide in the past year (14 per cent compared to seven per cent).

One statistic in the report suggested students with family members or close friends who had attempted suicide were more likely to try the act. A total of 21 per cent of students in the North Shore/Coast Garibaldi region said they had a friend who had attempted suicide and four per cent noted they had family members who had tried to kill themselves.

When contacted by Coast Reporter this week, School District No. 46 (SD46) superintendent of schools Patrick Bocking said helping students struggling with mental health issues and thoughts of suicide was a priority for the school district.

“Our district and school counsellors are trained to identify students at risk. If there are any signs of potential self-harm, we work with our community partners immediately to ensure that our students have the support they need,” Bocking said.

“Recently, we arranged for our district principal of student support, Vanessa White, to become a trained facilitator of Mental Health First Aid for Adults who Interact with Youth. Many of our staff will be trained with this model. We will also offer the program to community partners who interact with our students in their work. The intent is to surround any vulnerable youth with care and support for their well being.”

In addition, the school district is planning a training session for staff on suicide intervention in late February and a community forum in April titled “The Heart of the Matter” that will give tips and tools on how to help create healthy, caring community schools.

SD46 is also educating students on the dangers of smoking, drinking and drug use through health and career curriculum and special guest speakers who will come into schools periodically.

Bocking said SD46 will use the information in the McCreary report (along with information from teachers and local surveys) in the future to help make decisions about where to focus time and money to best benefit students.

“All schools develop a social responsibility goal that is based on the needs of the students in each school, and very often a part of the information that informs the social responsibility goal is from this report,” Bocking noted.

To view the North Shore/Coast Garibaldi report in its entirety, which looks at many more issues related to student health, go to