Engaging youth to promote positive mental health

Welcome to OKN’s first research blog post! We will be using this space as a forum for conversations about research and to share resources with our readers. I’ll be blogging about OKN research and other research related to children, youth and families. My goal is to break down barriers about research and show how accessible, interesting and important local data is for all members of our community. In this way, we can all work together to understand community problems and plan effective strategies to address them.

Our first post corresponds with Mental Health week. What better time to share some facts about child and youth mental health in Halton and explore ways we can support youth. Mental health disorders can be devastating and are often misunderstood. For young people, the issues can be especially challenging. Young people experience major life changes on the way to adulthood, and feel pressure to do well at school, make friends, and negotiate changing relationships with parents and caregivers. Large-scale research done at the provincial level shows about 6% of young people between grades 7 and 12 report symptoms associated with anxiety and depression, and that psychological distress increases as grade goes up[i].

We see a similar trend in Halton with psychological symptoms increasing as grade increases. OKN’s 2012/2013 Halton Youth Survey (HYS) asks grade 7 and grade 10 students about how they are feeling, and their experiences at school, home, and in the community. To assess how many of our students are at risk for depression, we asked students how often they felt sad, lonely, depressed or like crying in the past 7 days. A student is considered at risk for depression if they answered always or often to all four survey questions. This question and the scale were adopted directly from a 2007 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) survey[ii], and it’s known as the Centre for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. Using this scale we found that grade 10 students are at more than double the risk for depression compared to grade 7 students (9% for grade 10 students versus 4% for grade 7 students – see my chart in Figure 1 below). For grade 10 students this means that almost 1 in 10 is at risk for depression.

Figure 1. Symptoms experienced in the past 7 days by grade, HYS 2012/13


Take a look at this map from the OKN Data Portal that shows the 2012 percentage of high levels of self-esteem in our grade 7 students by neighbourhood (range = 83% to 96%). Focusing on positive mental health, through factors such as self-esteem, positive coping strategies and social skills, is an important way to support young people[i]. Students with high levels of positive mental health are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviours such as criminal activity or substance use and more likely to engage in other positive behaviours like physical activity (HYS, 2012/13), which is also associated with improved mental health[ii].

Programs and strategies that include these positive mental health factors successfully support young people and show positive results[i]. Youth Aiding Youth (YAY), delivered by ROCK (Reach Out Centre for Kids), is just one great example of a program that is engaging youth and mobilising the community for young people’s mental health. ROCK is the largest accredited children’s mental health centre in Halton, providing a multi-disciplinary approach to prevention, assessment and treatment of infants, children, youth and their families. YAY is a peer mentoring program that matches at risk children ages 6 to 12 with a youth mentor ages 16 to 24. The program focuses on engaging in activities that promote coping skills and positive social interactions.

Awareness, prevention and early intervention are key to promoting positive mental health. This week, let’s start the conversation and focus on ways we can work together to support positive mental health factors in young people.

Want to explore the research further? Check out our Data Conversation Tool to help you get a conversation about research started with your team.


Looking for more resources and information about mental health for young people?

[1]Paglia-Boak, A., Adlaf, E. M., Hamilton, H. A., Beitchman, J. H., Wolfe, D., & Mann, R. E. (2012). The mental health and well-being of Ontario students, 1991 – 2011: Detailed OSDUHS findings (CAMH Research Document Series No, 35). Toronto, ON: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. http://www.camh.ca/en/research/news_and_publications/ontario-student-drug-use-and-health-survey/Documents/2011%20OSDUHS%20Docs/2011OSDUHS_Detailed_MentalHealthReport.pdf

[2] Paglia-Boak, A., Mann, R. E., Adlaf, E. M., Beitchman, J. H., Wolfe, D., & Rehm, J. (2010). The mental health and well-being of Ontario students, 1991 – 2009: Detailed OSDUHS findings (CAMH Research Document Series No, 29). Toronto, ON: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. https://www.thriver.com/documents/03-2009-Ontario-Mental-Health-Well-Being-report.pdf

[3] Smith, A., Poon, C., Stewart, D., Hoogeveen, C., Saewyc, E., and the McCreary Centre Society (2011). Making the right connections: Promoting positive mental health among BC youth. Vancouver, BC: McCreary Centre Society http://www.mcs.bc.ca/pdf/making_the_right_connections.pdf

[4]Weir, K. (2011). The exercise effect. Monitor on Psychology, 42(11), 48. http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/12/exercise.aspx

[5] Boyko et al. (2007). Best practice guidelines for mental health promotion programs: Children & youth. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the Centre for Health Promotion, University of Toronto; and Toronto Public Health. https://knowledgex.camh.net/policy_health/mhpromotion/mhp_childyouth/Pages/guideline3.aspx

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