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Students facing physical and mental health issue

By Ian McInroy, Barrie Examiner

Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit associate medical officer of health Dr. Lisa Simon, and other members of the unit, are ready to help students with their mental and physical health issues.

Supplied Photo

Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit associate medical officer of health Dr. Lisa Simon, and other members of the unit, are ready to help students with their mental and physical health issues. Supplied Photo

The transition for youth heading into high school has never been more difficult.

According to the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, one in four students in high school feel they have fair to poor mental health, almost double the rate while they are in grades 7 and 8.

The statistics come from an Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey conducted in 2015.

“This is the first time we have been able to get a comprehensive picture of local youth health,” said Dr. Lisa Simon, associate medical officer of health with the health unit. “We know that the adolescent years are tough ones, but there are some situations here that are particularly striking, and pose a long-term risk to their health.”

Student stress levels rise once they enter secondary school, she added.

“This likely relates to the challenging developmental stage of adolescence, which includes transition in the school environment, physical growth and development, maturity and relationships, and a time of exploration, self-discovery and experimentation,” Simon said.

The doctor said students who rated their place in society in respect to money, education and occupation as lower, reported worse mental health and lower rates of physical activity and eating breakfast daily.

“It is also striking that more females than males experience poor mental health, high social-media use and lower physical activity levels,” she added. “Patterns that begin in adolescence can persist into adulthood, increasing the risk of poorer mental and physical health in the long term.”

According to the survey, physical activity rates are low and drop significantly once students get into high school and during school nights, barely one-third of high-school students are getting the required eight hours of sleep.

When it comes to alcohol and drug use, the older students are more likely to have tried marijuana or other drugs.

Three-quarters of students in grades 11 and 12 have consumed alcohol.

Tobacco use takes a major jump as well.

While 7% of students in grades 9 and 10 reported smoking cigarettes in the previous year, by grades 11 and 12, it had risen to 18%.

Simon said the health unit is working with school boards to develop programs to offset the trends of youth dealing with mental and physical issues, but added parents also have an important role to play.

“They are the most important influence on their children’s positive mental health, from birth and beyond,” she said. “Parents can talk openly with their children, listen to their feelings and show support, and connect with community supports and health-care professionals if their children are facing challenges.”

The mental health and wellbeing of students is “critically important and a changing landscape” for parents and staff in schools, according to Pat Carney, senior psychologist and mental-health lead for the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board.

"Every day, our youth are faced with tremendous challenges - from anxiety and depression to bullying and addiction – and the issues can be overwhelming and sometimes difficult to deal with," Carney said.

To that end, the board is hosting youth mental-health nights for parents in Barrie and Orillia next week.

“These sessions will provide parents with insights, support and practical tools and tips which can help them navigate the sometimes difficult waters of youth mental health,” Carney added.

The sessions run on Nov. 20 at Patrick Fogarty Catholic Secondary School in Orillia from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and the following evening at St. Joseph’s Catholic High School in Barrie during the same hours.

Parents can call Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520 to speak with a public health nurse about community resources and receive parenting information and/or support from the Positive Parenting Program.

Information is also available at