In 2013, almost 30,000 students in Grades 7–12 completed the BC Adolescent Health Survey (BC AHS) in schools across British Columbia.
The survey was conducted previously in 1992, 1998, 2003 and 2008.
As in previous years, all four Southern Vancouver Island school districts participated.
The survey is designed to consider emerging youth health issues and to track trends over time.
Over the years, the following factors have been identified as protective for youth:
1. SCHOOL CONNECTEDNESS
The more connected students felt to their school, the better their mental health ratings.
In addition, students who had been teased, excluded, and/or assaulted in the past year who reported higher school connectedness were more likely to have only positive aspirations for the future than those with lower feelings of connectedness.
2. POSITIVE FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS
Most students in South Vancouver Island felt their family had fun together (68%), understood them (60%), and paid attention to them (76%). These youth made safer decisions. For example, students who felt they and their family had fun together were less likely to have self-harmed in the past year (9% vs. 33% of those who did not feel they and their family had fun together). And students who felt that their family understood them were half as likely to report binge drinking in the past month (15% vs. 30% who did not feel their family understood them).
Youth who ate their evening meals with their parents most of all of the time reported better nutrition. For instance they were more likely to have fruit or vegetables three or more times the previous day (67% vs. 47% of those who never or rarely ate with their parents). They also reported greater self confidence, such as more likely to feel good about themselves (85% vs. 63%) and their abilities (89% vs. 79%).
Students whose parents were aware of what they were doing in their free time were less likely to be texting or chatting on their phone after they were expected to be asleep (55% vs. 69% of those whose parents were not monitoring their spare time). They were also more likely to have slept for eight or more hours on the night before taking the survey (60% vs. 35%).
3. SUPPORTIVE AND CARING ADULTS OUTSIDE THE FAMILY
As shown in the AHS before, adults outside the family also have a role to play.
For example, students with a limiting health condition or disability were less likely to miss out on needed mental health care if they had an adult outside their family they could turn to.
4. SOMEONE TO TURN TO FOR HELP
Most youth who were looking for advice or support approached their friends and family, but they also looked to a range of professionals in their lives, including teachers, school counsellors, doctors, and sports coaches.
Most often youth found the assistance helpful, and this again had positive associations.
Youth who had been physically and/or sexually abused and found their teacher to be helpful were more likely to have post-secondary plans and less likely to have attempted suicide in the past year than those who approached their teacher for help but did not find it helpful.
5. PEER RELATIONSHIPS
As youth grow older, their relationships with peers play an increasingly important role in their lives. There were positive associations with having more than just one or two close friends.
For example, students who had three or more close friends were more likely than those with fewer friends to rate their overall health as good or excellent (91% vs. 80%). They were also less likely to have been teased, excluded, or assaulted in the past year (47% vs. 62%).
6. GOOD NUTRITION
Youth who reported eating fruit or vegetables three or more times on the day before taking the survey were more than those who had fewer servings to report good or excellent mental health, and to feel calm (52% vs. 42%) and happy (74% vs. 62%) most or all of the time in the past month.
They were also less likely to report extreme stress (30% vs. 35%) and extreme despair in the past month (14% vs. 22%).
Those who always ate breakfast on school days were more likely than those who ate breakfast less often or not at all to report report good or excellent mental health, better nutrition, and sleeping for 8 or more hours the previous night.
7. FEELING ENGAGED AND VALUED
Feeling listened to and valued in their activities can be protective for youth. Those who felt their ideas were listened to quite a bit or a lot were more likely to rate their overall health as good or excellent.
Similarly, among youth who had been teased, excluded, or assaulted in the past year, those who felt their activities were meaningful were more likely to feel good about themselves.
8. STABLE HOME
Moving can have a negative impact on young people. As shown earlier in presentation, youth who had been in government care who had not moved in the past year were more likely than those who had moved to report feeling calm and at peace all or most of the time in the past month (47%* vs. 27%* who had moved in the past year).
These was also true for students who had never been in government care. For instance, youth who had not moved were more likely to report feeling good about themselves (83% vs. 73% who had moved in the past year) and their abilities (88% vs. 81%).
New protective factors identified through the 2013 Adolescent Health Survey:
9. EIGHT OR MORE HOURS OF SLEEP
The more sleep students got, the more likely they were to rate their mental health as good or excellent.
Among students who had been physically or sexually abused, those who slept for at least eight hours the night before taking the survey were more likely to rate their overall health as good or excellent compared to those who slept fewer hours.
10. NEIGHBOURHOOD SAFETY
Compared to youth who did not feel safe in their neighbourhood during the day, youth who always felt safe were more likely to have only positive aspirations for the future, and were less likely to have missed out on medical care if they thought they needed it.
Feeling safe was also associated with positive mental health among vulnerable youth.
11. COMMUNITY CONNECTEDNESS
There were similar protective associations for community connectedness. Youth who felt like a part of their community were more likely to feel good about themselves and their abilities, compared to youth who felt less connected.
Similarly, the more connected youth who had been socially excluded felt to their community, the less likely they were to have missed out on necessary medical care (9% vs. 20% of those who were very little or not at all connected), or mental health services (13% vs. 32%) in the past year.
12. CULTURAL CONNECTEDNESS
Youth who were involved in traditional activities on a weekly basis were more likely to be engaged in their community in other ways. For instance, they were more likely to be doing weekly volunteering (54%* vs. 13% of youth who never took part in traditional activities).
They were also more likely to plan to continue their education after high school (91% vs. 83%) and to feel good about themselves (89% vs. 79%).