Marlo CameronThe Ottawa Sun
Date Published: Tuesday, August 14, 2012
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It’s OK to ask about mental health issues, and it’s OK to ask about suicide.
In fact, Benjamin Leikin, mental health project officer with Ottawa Public Health, said it could make a difference to a struggling teen.
New numbers from Ottawa Public Health shed light on the state of youth mental health in the city.
The report, released Tuesday, was compiled from surveys conducted through the 2010/11 school year with students in grades 7-12 in public and Catholic school systems.
Among the statistics, the report says 12% of youth have seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, and 42% of girls and 25% of boys reported ‘elevated psychological distress’ in the weeks before the survey.
Leikin said statistics show the state of mental health for teens in Ottawa is comparable to the rest of the province, but it’s still important to have conversations with youth.
If there is any doubt, Leikin said it’s always best to ask a youth how they’re feeling or if they are struggling with thoughts of self-harm.
“We’re concerned that if we ask the question it might lead someone to have thoughts about it, but the topic of suicide is being covered in the media, it’s online, so students and youth are hearing about it,” he said.
“To hear about it from someone they care about is not going to have any risks for that individual.”
Leikin said it can be difficult for parents or teachers to distinguish between normal adolescent behaviour and mental health issues, but behaviours like becoming withdrawn from social activities, suddenly acting out or changes in sleeping patterns can be a clue that it’s more than teen angst.
For teens, Leikin said it’s important to reach out to someone they trust if they feel they’re struggling.
It might not always be a mental health issue, but early detection is better in the long run.
“It really increases the chance of overcoming, or at best managing an illness, and that’s really important. The longer we wait, the poorer the chances for the best outcome,” he said.
There are a number of services in the city for teens struggling with mental health issues, including community health and resource centres and hospitals.
The Youth Services Bureau also has a mental health walk-in clinic open on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which provides same-day one-on-one confidential counselling.
According to a survey conducted by Ottawa Public Health over the 2010-11 academic year, Ottawa students in grades 7-12 reported the following:
- 28% reported excellent mental health
- 1/3 students said they experience elevated feelings of stress
- 12% had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year
- 50% of students from a family of a low socio-economic status reported strong feelings of stress, compared with 30% of students from families with a higher socio-economic status
- 17% of students from a family of a low socio-economic status reported ‘very good’ mental health, and 28% had considered attempting suicide in the past year
- 18% said they were worried about being harmed or threatened at school
- 28% of students said they had been bullied
- 21% of girls and 15% of boys said they had visited a mental health professional
(Please note that CMHO staff does not reply to comments that are posted on news stories.)