The Mental Health Commission of Canada, along with allied mental health organizations, have been working hard over the past several months to address mental health issues present amongst youth in Canada. These issues include stigma and barriers youth face in accessing mental health support services. The need for mental health supports for youth has dramatically increased due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions. Acknowledging mental distress, taking action, and getting support in these uncertain times is vital to lessening the impact of youth mental health challenges. Mental health can be defined as your psychological and emotional wellbeing. Mental illness on the other hand is characterized by alterations in thinking, mood and/or behavior associated with significant distress and impaired functioning.
An important advancement in supporting youth in crisis throughout this unprecedented time, has been the creation of more online mental health supports. The Mental Health Commission of Canada have been expanding the delivery of online mental health resources. The Commission has been finding new ways to connect through the creation of innovative, interactive platforms designed for youth.
The development and dissemination of youth-centred resources on mental health is essential to relating to the youth demographic. It was reported in a recent youth survey conducted by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, that 53% of youth are seeking help through online supports (1). It is forecasted that the demand and need for online mental health support services will continue to rise in the coming months. Making supports accessible, readily available, and user friendly is key to ensuring youth are able to access and connect with mental health services and resources online.
Protective Factors & Accessibility of Mental Health Supports
Many youth are experiencing barriers when it comes to seeking help for their mental health. Canadian Mental Health Commission youth survey findings showed that many youth reported feeling uncomfortable accessing supports or expressed feelings of being undeserving of help. Some youth attitudes expressed there would be “no point’ in finding help as it would only be a band-aid solution (1). Mental health stigmas have fueled a negative perception shaping youth and societal attitudes towards how mental health and mental illness are perceived. Raising awareness and reducing stigma around mental illness, is a primary objective of the Mental Heath Commission of Canada (1). There is an urgent need for schools to play a key role in the sharing of up to date mental health coping resources and supports for youth. It is important for schools to support youth by fostering safe virtual platforms for students to actively participate and stay engaged with their classmates (1).
“An estimated 1.2 million children and youth in Canada are affected by mental illness—yet, less than 20 per cent will receive appropriate treatment. By age 25, approximately 20 per cent of Canadians will have developed a mental illness. Youth who are engaged in child and adolescent mental health services, and who require continued services, are also often not well supported as they prepare to enter the adult mental health system.” - YMHC, 2020.
Protective factors, such as positive relationships, increase mental well-being, while risk factors, such as toxic stress decrease mental well-being. The more protective factors that we have in our life, the stronger our resiliency, and the less risk factors affect our mental health (3). Resiliency is not a trait that people either have or do not have. Rather, it is built through the combination of supportive relationships, adaptive skill building, and positive experiences (3).
What are youth doing to cope with new restrictions?
Youth, along with educators, parents, and caregivers are seeking to find new ways to manage and cope with the stress that comes with life in lockdown. The Mental Health Commission of Canada youth survey conveyed that youth are using a combination of coping methods during this time. Different coping methods being used by youth include at home exercises (workouts, yoga and meditation), walking outdoors, staying connected with family and friends virtually, playing music, listening to podcasts, writing/journaling, drawing, and reading (1).
Where to go for online Youth Mental Health supports?
Educating youth on where they can go to access online mental health supports is important at this time. Here are a few great mental health resources available to youth online where they can access support services and free counselling.
Teen Mental Health. Org
Kids Help Phone
Calgary Distress Centre
Reaching out for support from a trusted friend, family member, or caring adult is the best first step. You are not alone. Taking care of your mental health matters, check in with yourself daily.
(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.
(2) Youth Mental Health Canada Youth Mental Health Reality: The Difference We Can Make. https://ymhc.ngo/resources/ymh-stats/. Retreieved December 15th, 2020.
(3) Alberta Family Wellness Initiative. https://www.albertafamilywellness.org