Saskatchewan

Survey reveals self-harm, unwanted sexual activity rates among Sask. teens

A health survey of about 9,000 students across Saskatchewan was born out of a sense of frustration that too often the province leads the nation in negative health statistics.

Grade 7 to 12 students across province facing similar issues

A 2015 survey, conducted through participating schools, polled kids Grades 7 to 12 on 11 health-related topics. (Pressmaster/Shutterstock)

A health survey of about 9,000 students across Saskatchewan was born out of a sense of frustration that too often the province leads the nation in negative health statistics.

"Every time a national project or national work would be done it always seemed like Saskatchewan was worst or near worst," said Jon Tonita, the co-chair of the Saskatchewan Alliance for Youth and Community Well-Being (SAYCW).

'It was the same things showing up in all the schools."- Jon Tonita, co-chair of the Saskatchewan Alliance for Youth and Community Well-Being

That led SAYCW, a coalition of health and community groups, to attempt to understand what's going on by conducting an extensive survey of young people in Saskatchewan.

The 2015 survey, conducted through participating schools, polled kids Grades 7 to 12 on 11 health-related topics and uncovered a wide range of problems:

  • 32 per cent of girls had harmed themselves at some point in their lives through cutting, burning, substance abuse or self-injury games.
  • 19 per cent of students had considered suicide in the past year; half of them had actually attempted it.
  • 18 per cent of students had experienced hunger as a result of a lack of food.
  • 90 per cent of students ate sugary and salty snacks or fast food three times or more a day.
  • 31 per cent of sexually active girls and 14 per cent of sexually active boys had experienced sexual activity when they did not want it. 
  • 27 per cent of students did not usually eat breakfast.

The survey data was gathered and shared with each school individually. That allows administration to identify problems in their particular school. The data is confidential and won't be shared publicly.

Different schools, similar issues

Tonita said he went into the research expecting a wide range of variability from school to school.

"We might expect really different responses in northern schools versus the southern, more affluent school areas versus inner city," he said.

Instead, the survey showed that "it didn't matter if it was north, south, east, west, Catholic, public ... it was the same things showing up in all the schools."

Push for change

Tonita said this data doesn't just shine a light on various problems; it also can lead the change.

A couple of corporations (Cameco and AstraZeneca) have donated $230,000 in grant money to assist in addressing the issues raised.

Nearly 70 schools have submitted proposals asking for some of that money to help establish breakfast programs or programs targeted at substance abuse.

Tonita said the schools that find a successful approach will be able to share what they've learned with others in the province.

He said SAYCW is hoping to gather and share this data every three years. He said that will enable schools to track progress and identify emerging problems.

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