Teens respond to survey on depression, suicidal thoughts

Cathy Dobson

A mental health survey that received an “unbelievable” response has found many Lambton-Kent teens feel disconnected but are afraid to ask for help.

Lori Brush, mental health lead with the Lambton Kent District School board, said the “Speak Up” survey reflects the opinions of 8,000 students questioned in late 2013.

The findings will be unrolled to school boards and then to the public in the next few weeks.

But Brush offered a brief insight at an Oct. 23 suicide prevention forum hosted by the local chapter of the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario in Sarnia.

Many teens said they would feel stigmatized if they spoke out about depression and suicidal feelings, she said.

“Seventy-seven percent said they feel shame and embarrassment,” Brush said. “The kids said they want more open dialogue with a trusted adult.”

The Speak Up survey was conducted to give local students a voice and find out what they really need, she said.

Brush has been working the past three years with a new team of three mental health and addiction nurses in area high schools.

Suicide is identified nationally as the highest cause of death among 15 to 34 year olds.

“These nurses in our schools are flat out busy,” said Bush. Teachers say they spend hours a day with kids in distress but they are not trained to help young people with mental health problems.

That’s where the Sarnia-Lambton Suicide Prevention committee comes in. Chairperson Sharon Berry Ross was also at the forum, which attracted about 100 participants to the Lambton College Event Centre.

There was a time in Sarnia when suicide wasn’t discussed, but that has changes over the past five years or so, she said.

“Now, there’s a sense of hope where there has been desperation and despair.”

Her committee is using a program called SafeTALK to train hundreds of local people, including teachers, on how to connect with people who may be suicidal.

That same kind of training could help students help their peers, said Brush.

“We know youth most often approach other youth when they have thoughts of suicide, so we need to teach those youth not to keep secrets and to get help.”

Discussions have started at the board level to introduce mental health instruction into the Grade 9 curriculum, she said.

“We want youth in general to know what to do because early identification and intervention makes a difference.

“Until the demons are addressed, they won’t go away.”

Local suicide statistics are difficult to pin down, Brush added. Lambton Public Health reports roughly 11 people took their lives in Sarnia Lambton each year between 2000 and 2009. In 2012, at least nine local youth committed suicide. Some likely go unreported.

Mental health officials say they don’t believe the number of suicides in Sarnia-Lambton exceeds the national average.

UNLEASH THE STRESS WEEK

WHAT: Lambton College students belonging to the local suicide prevention initiative jack.org promote relieving stress through various special events, including the smashing of an old car.

WHEN: Week of Nov. 3.

OTHER: The students invite the community to join a walk for mental health Nov. 6 at 11:30 a.m., from the London Road college entrance to the Metro parking lot.

For more, visit jack.org or contact the Sarnia Lambton Suicide Prevention committee at 519-337-5411.