This spring, the McCreary Centre Society will release the results of its 2008 Adolescent Health Survey concerning the well-being of young people in the province.
Based on questionnaires answered by more than 29,000 students from grades 7 to 12, the poll will include information on whether or not the youth inclination toward suicide has changed.
Three previous surveys conducted by the Vancouver-based nonprofit between 1992 and 2003 showed an unchanged proportion of seven percent responded that they have attempted to take their own lives.
“Suicide attempts are one of the clearest indicators of stresses and troubles in young people’s lives,” research director Elizabeth Saewyc told the Georgia Straight. “We have to take these seriously.”
Established in 1977, the society is named after the late J. F. McCreary, a pediatrician, medical administrator, and advocate of multidisciplinary approaches to health care.
Its 2003 survey indicated that 16 percent of adolescent students reported having contemplated suicide, up from 14 percent from the preceding survey in 1998 and the same proportion as in the 1992 survey. Also in 2003, 11 percent made plans to kill themselves, which was the same rate as in 1998 but less than the 1992 survey figure of 14 percent.
Ian Ross, executive director of the Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of B.C., referenced the same numbers as he warned that it’s a mistake to consider the subject of suicide as taboo.
“Some people think if you talk about suicide, people are going to put that in their mind, and they’re going to do it,” Ross told the Straight in a phone interview. “In fact, it’s in people’s minds already, so you have to talk about it.”
In addition to crisis lines, Ross’s centre also operates YouthinBC.com, an on-line resource that caters to young people. Here, volunteers are available for on-line chats from 2 p.m. to midnight every day of the year.
Last year, 23.25 percent of chats at YouthinBC.com related to the topic of suicide, coming third to the combined subjects of violence, sexual assault, and child abuse at 23.32 percent, and relationships at 32 percent.
Ross said that for 20 years, the crisis centre has been conducting forums in high schools to raise awareness about suicide prevention, an activity that he explained was spurred by the suicide death of a secondary student on the North Shore.
“We started realizing that this person had actually reached out to fellow students, and a lot of students kept that [to themselves],” he said. “It was a pact. So they kept a secret and had a dead friend.”
The Coroners Service of B.C. reinforced the lesson that people usually give signs before they kill themselves in its review of 81 cases of youth suicide between January 1, 2003, and December 31, 2007.
“Past suicidal behaviour, such as expressing thoughts of suicide, making threats of suicide, and attempting suicide, was the most significant risk factor identified, present in 70 per cent of the cases reviewed,” the agency stated in last December’s Looking for Something to Look Forward To: A Five-Year Retrospective Review of Child and Youth Suicide in B.C.
Wilma Arruda is the chair of the child and youth committee of the B.C. Medical Association. According to the Nanaimo-based doctor, suicide cases are one of the extreme manifestations of mental-health issues that plague thousands of youth in the province.
Writing in the July-August 2008 edition of the BC Medical Journal, Arruda noted that 40 to 50 percent of visits to pediatricians are for mental-health problems. She also pointed out that about 140,000 B.C. children and youth have mental disorders. She likewise stated that only five percent of children and youth receive psychological care, and just one percent to two percent are treated by specialists.
“There are a lot of children and youth that suffer from what some people might not recognize as significant mental-health concerns, like anxiety,” Arruda told the Straight. “Mental health is the crux of your well-being. You may be sick with a lot of things, but if you have a positive outlook in life, then you can sort of carry through and manage and move on.”
The Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of B.C.’s distress lines are 604-872-3311 for Greater Vancouver, 1-866-661-3311 for Howe Sound and the Sunshine Coast, 1-866-872-0113 for the hearing-impaired, and 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433), B.C.–wide.