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Schools important place for young people's mental health: CMHA

Last Updated Apr 12, 2021 at 8:48 pm PDT

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It's important for young people to have conversations with others who are learning in difficult times: CAMH

Parents and other adults in the lives of young people should also strive to check in

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — As a debate continues around whether to shut down schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) says it’s important those buildings stay open, and that students are able to socialize in person – with the proper protocols in place, of course. This is especially important for those in college and university, but includes young people of all ages.

Jonny Morris speaks for the B.C. chapter of the CMHA and says stress been especially heightened over the past few weeks.

“My sense is that the pandemic has absolutely had an impact on young people’s mental health, both because folks are experiencing anxiety about the pandemic, particulary as we see that it is getting more intense in this third wave – but also the routine of learning, the kind of the day-to-day of how you learn, and perhaps most importantly the social interactions of being in school, college, or university has changed,” Morris tells NEWS 1130.

Even as the case count continues to climb, Morris says in-person learning will serve young people as they continue to find themselves amid a pandemic. It’s especially important for those who have been struggling with mental health and other issues – even prior to COVID-19

“Some of the big repercussions that we would be on the lookout for – and we’ve seen this in our own data – is for young people who are already coping or managing or living with a mental health or substance abuse problem. Anxiety, depression being good examples. We would be wanting to make sure that people are connecting to resources, and that people were aware of where to go for help, because what we’ve seen is some of the hardest hit, or the most impacted, have been people who already are experiencing a mental health or substance abuse problem,” he says.

Morris says that’s why it’s imperative that young people continue to keep checking in with their social groups and friends, because in some cases — it’s all they have.

“When you’re a young person, it’s so critical, both to just living life … but also to learning. With tighter restrictions – and we’ve seen this in other jurisdictions, too – the absence of those connections can absolutely impact mental health. That’s why throughout the pandemic, we’ve really been encouraging people to, whilst following public health orders, to be as creative as possible with reaching in, reaching out, connecting, enabling people to be aware of some of the help that is available [to them].”

For those who have their parents or other family in their lives, Morris says it’s also important for them to have honest conversations.

“Talking about mental health, talking about how you’re feeling, talking about things; modelling good communication, and recognizing that young people are strong and resilient, too, are really important considerations,” he explains.

“I think that keeping the lines of communication open between parents, caregivers, and kids in the home, checking in and creating the conditions for it to be okay to talk about their feelings, the challenges you’re experiencing. Parents and caregivers are often the first to notice when things might be changing, so if their child, young adult, or youth in their family starts to withdraw or disconnect, stop communicating, is more irritable, angry than usual, appetite changes … sleep changes, to be on the lookout if there are big changes happening on the outside, often it’s a big opportunity to have a conversation about what’s going on on the inside.”

If you’re someone who doesn’t have a friend or family group to reach out to, make sure to look for other online or in-person resources – for instance, telehealth counselling.