Latest Youth Behaviour Survey shows mental health issues, unprotected sex among Thompson students

A survey of Thompson junior high and high school students shows that a significant number of respondents have considered suicide and that many of those who are sexually active frequently have unprotected sex despite fairly high awareness of the risks of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Those were among the results of the 2019 Youth Behaviour Survey presented to the School District of Mystery Lake (SDML) school board at its June 2 meeting by Paul Fricker and Tricia Griffin of the district’s Adolescent Health Education Committee (AHEC).

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Conducted every two to three years since 1985, the latest round of the 55-question survey was completed by 994 students in Grade 7 to Grade 12 last October. Forty-eight per cent identified as male, 48 per cent as female and four per cent as other gender identity. Four per cent or about 40 students in total, said that they are parents themselves.The previous survey was completed in 2016.

Mental health is an area of concern for junior high and high school students, only 50 per cent of whom reported rarely or never feeling down or depressed last year, compared to 57 to 61 per cent of respondents in the previous four surveys. Twenty-six per cent of females, 13 per cent of males and 56 per cent of other gender identity students reported feeling depressed or down all the time, while 44 per cent of females, 18 per cent of males and 75 per cent of other gender identity students said they were anxious all or most of the time. Similar numbers – 44 per cent of females, 22 per cent of males and 76 per cent of other gender identity students – said they had considered suicide, with 32 per cent of females, nine per cent of males and 64 per cent of other gender identity students saying they had attempted suicide.

“Those are pretty sobering numbers and you can see that on  that particular point they’re actually increasing,” said Fricker, chair of the AHEC committee.

Only about a quarter of students who completed the survey said they were sexually active, similar to what the survey found in 2016, and 77 per cent understood that unprotected vaginal sex carries a risk of contracting an STI, with 71 per cent understanding the same thing about oral and anal sex. Despite that, 43 per cent of sexually active respondents said they usually have unprotected vaginal sex. For oral sex and anal sex, the percentages were 77 and 55.

‘“I think the reality is most of them don’t think it’s going to happen to them,” said Griffin.

Some areas in the survey, which covers physical wellness, sexuality and mental health alongside drug use, gambling and technology as well as safety, abuse and assault, show improvement or basically similar findings to the 2016 survey. Other areas showed more behaviours considered negative than last time.

More students said they have enough to eat than in 2016 and fewer said they had experienced face-to-face bullying. The number of students who worked was about the same as in 2016, while the number who experienced online bullying was also similar to three years prior. Fewer students reported ever having used alcohol or used it more than once than in 2016.

More students reported feeling over or underweight than in 2016, more Grade 7 students said they had dieted and fewer got six to 10 hours of sleep per night, while the number of students who smoked went up a bit, and the number who reported having used drugs other than tobacco or alcohol rose a few percentage points.

The 2019 survey also included questions about vaping pornography for the first time. Fifteen per cent of Grade 12 students and 16 per cent of Grade 11s said they vape daily with nicotine, while 73 per cent said they had never watched pornography or only seen it once or twice. 

“I would have thought there would have been a lot more that would have watched,” said Fricker.

The Youth Behaviour Survey is financially supported by the Northern Regional Health Authority and results are shared with SDML schools as well as with other community service providers who work with children and youth.

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