Survey reveals prevalence of suicidal thoughts in Canadian kids

Of almost 400 young people surveyed, 32 per cent had considered suicide within the past four weeks, Youth Mental Health Canada says

It’s not just young people in Saskatchewan that are battling thoughts of suicide.

According to a report released by Youth Mental Health Canada, (YMHC), a “significant” number of youths across the country have contemplated or attempted suicide.

The data comes from an online survey conducted between November 2018 and June 2019 to get a clearer picture of the mental health challenges facing young people and to better understand their needs. Almost 400 youth from age 10 to over the age of 20 from across Canada participated. Youth aged 17 or older made up more than half of the respondents. 

Margins of error were not made public, nor was the specific makeup of the youth or where in Canada they hail from.

According to a press release issued Friday, 32 per cent of young people surveyed said they had considered attempting suicide in the previous four-week period, while three per cent had made an attempt.

“These figures are very disturbing and cause for great concern,” said Sheryl Boswell, executive director of the YMHC and an expert on child and youth mental health issues. “It is increasingly clear that mental illness is a serious issue in Canada and one that is threatening the lives of our children.

“We must do more to protect our school-age children and teenagers and recognize and understand the challenges that are causing a large number of them to consider taking their own lives. We need to provide the appropriate tools to help them overcome their mental health challenges.”

The survey also asked students about other elements of their mental health, such as how they manage stress, the amount of sleep they get, how they feel about school and if there was someone they could talk to about the way they’re feeling.

Just under 60 per cent of respondents did not know where to go for help or who to ask if they needed to talk about a mental health or emotional problem. Other than listening to music, “their strategies for managing stress and mental health seems to be limited,” the press release said.

“Mental illness is increasingly threatening the lives of our children and we have to make sure that youth know where to turn to for help and guidance,” said Boswell.

“We all have a part to play in suicide prevention. Suicidal youth are in pain. They don’t necessarily want to die, they

just want to end their pain. We need to get the message to young people that help is available to them.”

The survey found that while enjoyment and feelings of safety in school increase with age, the likelihood that someone has a staff member they feel comfortable talking to decreases with age. 

It also found that a large percentage of youth don’t exercise every day, and the percentage who does decreases with age. 

Further, 60 per cent of respondents said they think their mental health affects their performance in school. But two-thirds said they were not familiar with any youth mental health organizations. 

Respondents’ self-assessment of their own mental health was not positive.

Almost 60 per cent of 18-year-olds surveyed said they felt hopeless in the last four weeks.

A strong majority (86 per cent) of respondents said they were under stress, strain or pressure and didn’t know what to do in the last four weeks. Over half (55 per cent) had not spoken to a health care professional about a mental health challenge. 

The full report is available at ymhc.ngo.