Youth in Canada have faced many unforeseen challenges this school year. Challenges such as navigating the new restrictions imposed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Youth have had to dramatically shift the ways in which they are connecting with their peers, community, and school environment.
In a matter of days, youth in grades 7-12 have had to pivot and adjust to life online. In many ways this has been an incredibly challenging time for youth, as they embrace so many new transitions. The inability to socialize, connect, and engage in sports, and extra-curricular activities in person is impacting youth’s overall sense of well-being and ability to cope with stress.
There is rising evidence suggesting that youth perceive there to be a deterioration of their mental health over the past several months of the pandemic. Many youth are experiencing high anxiety, feelings of social isolation, and depression at this time (1). The Mental Health Commission of Canada is a national organization that aims to improve the lives of all people impacted by mental illness (1). The Headstrong Youth branch, of the Mental Health Commission of Canada recently conducted a youth survey to examine the impact Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown life is having on youth mental health. The survey collected valuable feedback from youth across Canada ages 12-24 (1). The survey results reflected a wide spectrum of youth attitudes towards their personal mental health challenges and lived experiences throughout the pandemic.
Covid-19 & Life Online
It is important to recognize that the adolescent stage of life is a very formative time in one’s life trajectory. Youth navigating this unprecedented time are dealing with numerous unique challenges in adjusting to life and schooling online. Many are experiencing difficulties adapting to the virtual learning environment with online schooling.
This delivery, is not conducive to all learning styles and abilities. Youth are unable to connect in the same way on a day to day basis as they typically would at school, which subsequently has changed the ways in which youth are interacting and forming connections with peers. In addition, youth’s social, emotional and physical well-being has been impacted by the inability to engage in sports and extracurriculars. Many youth find school, sports, and activities to be a positive outlet which offers a space for youth to connect with themselves and peers. Consequently, the removal of these outlets for youth has increased feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Marginalized youth have been more significantly impacted by the shift to online schooling, as they are experiencing increased barriers such as limited access to appropriate devices in households, lack of a safe space for learning, household financial challenges, and limited access to school, community, and mental health supports. Rural youth are also encountering specific challenges, as families residing in rural areas may not have a reliable internet connection and face greater barriers to accessing an appropriate learning environment to carry out online schooling.
Youth Resiliency and Coping strategies
One thing this pandemic has taught us is our ability to adapt in difficult circumstances. From this we have lived experiences of resiliency, fortitude, and perseverance. In a recent online youth panel discussion conducted by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, youth shared from their perspective, identifying key coping strategies to support other Canadian youth through this difficult time. A reflection stated by a youth panelist was “overnight your bedroom also became your classroom.”
Here are a few key coping strategies that were suggested.
• Create a new schedule. Structure a schedule for yourself to stick to each day when doing online schooling, take appropriate breaks, find time for movement, rest, and reflection.
• Check in with yourself, honor how you are feeling each day. It’s okay to have an off day, acknowledge your emotions and fears.
• Check in with friends and family, maintain connections. Call, text, or FaceTime. Come up with fun ways to stay connected. Start a wellness challenge with your friends or find home workouts you can share and do together. Take this time rekindle relationships.
• Explore a new hobby, take a break from your screens and devices. Intentionally unplug during your day.
What can adults do to make this feel better in the coming months?
Educators, parents, and caregivers are also in this transition and wondering how best they can support the youth in their life. Feedback provided by youth panelists represented by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, suggested a few key ways adults can show their support.
• Be more open and receptive. Ask questions, inquire into how your child or student is coping. Go beyond asking “how was your day.” … Find ways to open up dialogue and create a trusting connection.
• Watch that you are not projecting your own fears and stress. We are in this together. Provide emotional support and a safe space for your child or student to confide in you.
• Show interest, be attentive. Parents and caregivers, take this time to engage find ways you can connect as a family off devices if you are in the same household. Find things you can do together that builds connection, play music, dance, bake. Disengage off your own devices during this time and be present.
(1) Lockdown Life: Mental Health Impacts of Covid 19 on Youth in Canada. Community Education Service of the Child & Adolescent Addiction & Mental Health and Psychiatry Program (CAAMHPP) of Alberta Health Services & the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Retrieved on December 8th, 2020.