AMHERST, N.S. – Amherst’s youth town council hopes to use 2019 to address issues with tobacco use and mental health among the community’s young people.
Last spring, the AYTC conducted the survey among 150 students at E.B. Chandler Junior High School and Amherst Regional High School. It was hoping to use the results to collect information on what youth feel are important issues as well as how many of them believe tobacco use and mental health are issues.
“Some of the big things we found is how many youth have smoked before and how they feel about smoking in town,” AYTC Junior Mayor Rohin McKenney said. “The survey showed 73 per cent of the youth feel smoking is a problem in Amherst.”
McKenney said the result didn’t surprise council members because of tobacco messaging received in the school system. He said it was surprising that those who smoke didn’t think it was a problem for them, but was a problem in the community.
“We think it has something to do with the culture of young people in Amherst in that they see as a problem in the community at large, but don’t think it’s a problem for them,” he said. “It’s hard to change attitudes and that culture around smoking.”
McKenney said the AYTC looked at the town’s smoking policy and found it to be vague and it’s hoping to work with the town to make the bylaw more specific and hopes it includes cannabis. It also hopes the town will clarify which areas smoking tobacco and cannabis is permitted.
The survey also asked what young people are smoking. The majority are using tobacco, but he said there are quite a few using cannabis and e-cigarettes or vaping.
“We found in the survey more are using cannabis than cigarettes. At the time of this cigarettes, which are legal, were harder to get because you had to go into the store to purchase them. Youth were going to what at the time were illegal at the time in cannabis and unregulated in e-cigarettes,” the AYTC junior mayor said.
As a youth town council, McKenney said it plans to reach out to outside organizations to come in and assist with the anti-smoking message while it also wants to help the town promote active and healthy living and the Family First philosophy of the community.
McKenney said the youth council hopes to use the information collected this time as a baseline and do another survey in the spring to compare to see if the legalization of cannabis has affected the numbers and whether young people are getting the anti-tobacco and anti-vaping education programs.
“We know we can’t completely stop everyone, but if we know that the youth have the tools to know what the risks are that it would be a big step forward,” he said.
Under mental health, McKenney said, the youth council knew there were enough resources in the community, but only 26 per cent of respondents agreed there were enough. The majority were unaware of them.
“The youth said there are not enough resources,” he said. “We hope to help youth to know where to do. They may know there’s a mental health specialist, but they don’t know how to get help.”
In lot of cases, he said, the survey showed young people don’t know they can go to their family doctor for help.
He said the survey showed anxiety and depression were the biggest issues faced by those surveyed while the majority self-diagnosed themselves as opposed to getting a diagnosis from a health-care professional.
McKenney said the youth council is hoping to plan a mental health awareness week in the schools and hopes to use one day during that week to bring in some speakers to talk to students and it hopes to have Mayor David Kogon declare a Mental Health Week in Amherst.
“We want to do our own thing to bring more awareness to mental health among young people and the community as a whole,” he said. “Along with raising awareness in Amherst, we want to bring speakers into the schools to talk to students about how to get help. We want to make students aware of the resources available and how to get them. We want to normalize that there are mental health issues and it’s OK to ask for help.”