New SFU report reveals concerning teen mental health struggles in B.C

There is an urgent need for mental health supports and interventions for youth in British Columbia, according to the results of a new report led by Simon Fraser University.

The recently released report , which surveyed nearly 15,000 youth in the province, found half of 15- to 17-year-olds indicated that their mental health was fair or poor and nearly 40 per cent screened positive for depression (38 per cent) and generalized anxiety (39 per cent).

More than a third of the teens (36 per cent) reported needing but not seeking professional mental healthcare in the last six months.

"This report is an opportunity to hear from young people about how we can work together across sectors like health and education and with youth directly to create environments in which young people can flourish," says SFU health sciences Hasina Samji. "Whether it is more access to time outdoors or finding ways to bolster community belonging, there are a lot of concrete ways in which we can support youth mental health and well-being."

The report consolidates data from the 2023 Youth Development Instrument (YDI). The annual health and well-being survey is carried out by SFU researchers with the Capturing Health and Resilience Trajectories (CHART) lab led by Samji, with an advisory council of high school students from across the province. The report includes data from 14,596 young people in 28 school districts and 28 independent schools across B.C.

Teen and YDI Youth Advisory Council (YAC) Ambassador Ben Tarling notes that his generation is facing the brunt of unprecedented issues making it "doubly important that young voices be heard, and, even more importantly, be listened to."

YAC member Trinity Bell says understanding trends in youth well-being is the first step to "creating a world where everyone’s needs are accommodated. It’s important to get this information right from the source, both to accurately represent it and to empower those voices."

Judy Wu, an SFU PhD candidate and coordinator for the YDI Youth Advisory Council (YAC), says input from youth is critical to help inform change.

"We know youth are facing a variety of unique stressors coming off the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and other global and community-level stressors such as the housing crisis in B.C.," says Wu. "However, systems also need to push beyond just learning about youth experiences - we need to work collaboratively to co-develop strategies that will support positive youth well-being and development. Their eagerness really emphasizes that youth want to be involved in improving the systems that impact them directly, and we need to develop more avenues for that."

The YDI survey included questions about important sources of well-being, including sleep, physical activity, and positive relationships:

  • Most youth surveyed agree that schools have a supportive climate regarding mental health, where they can discuss their mental health openly, with 50 per cent experiencing high support and 37 per cent reporting medium support.
  • About 80 per cent of youth who participate in physical activity at school, including team or individual sports, reported the involvement added to their well-being. More than two-thirds (69 per cent) reported exercising or spending time outdoors to manage distressing events.
  • Students who start school at 9 a.m. or later reported significantly better mental health and well-being and had a more positive perception of school than those who started before 9 a.m.

  • Most youth reported having caring adults at home (75 per cent), but fewer reported having caring adults at school (34 per cent) and in the community (26 per cent). Seventy per cent of youth also reported having high friendship intimacy (e.g., having a good friend they can talk to when something is bothering them).
  • Youth most commonly identified housing affordability as the top concern facing Canada and climate change as the top global concern.