Cultivating The Next Generation How To Support Youth Mental Health

With Emma Higgins, National Communications Officer, CMHA National

As we continue to navigate year three of COVID-19, it’s no surprise that many of us are experiencing pandemic fatigue and a negative shift in our mental health. Recent data released by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and the University if British Columbia (UBC) researchers reveal that 37% of Canadians have experienced a decline in their mental health since the start of the pandemic. 

Youth are feeling it too. Consider that before the pandemic, 20% of young Canadians were affected by a mental illness or problem. Childhood and adolescence are times of immense change and transition that can be confusing, challenging and even scary. Young people are learning to cope with these changes while still in the process of learning how to identify their thoughts, feelings and emotions.  

Enter the pandemic, with its great uncertainty, social isolation, school disruption and stress. Two years in and we are only beginning to see the mental health impacts on youth. These impacts could pose negative effects not only for individual young people, but for the entire generation. 

“We need each other more than ever,” says Dr. Emily Jenkins, UBC professor who co-led the research, “Empathy is essential not only for building positive and healthy relationships, but also for reducing divisions between people, and in our communities. And the good news is, it is an emotional response that can be cultivated.”

When it comes to youth mental health, we can’t just treat illness. Getting ahead of it is key to protecting what is arguably our society’s greatest asset—the health and well-being of the next generation. 

So, what can be done to help?

Here are some effective ways to intervene to support youth:

Reach out to support them

Check in with youth and remind them that they are not alone. By reaching out and showing your support, you can help youth build resilience and offer them a safe place to share their feelings with no judgment.

Refer them to help and resources

There is help out there. If you know someone aged 15+ who is experiencing low mood, mild to moderate depression, anxiety, stress or worry, you will want to refer them to specialized services and resources that can help them find the help that they need.

Teach empathy at home

Empathy is the ability to understand another’s perspective and feelings. It can play a key role in strengthening relationships, resolving conflict and promoting good mental health. Empathy is an emotional response that can be taught. One way to teach it is by modelling it for your children and youth. This can be done by expressing and explaining your own emotions as they arise, and then helping your kids express and explain theirs. Empathy can also be practiced through listening. To empathize with someone, you need to be present with them. You need to listen closely, understand their experience and respond appropriately. When their environment is empathetic, they are more engaged, have higher academic achievement, better communication skills, better relationships and lower likelihood of bullying, aggressive behaviours, and emotional disorders.

Bring social and emotional learning into schools

An important way to support youth with their mental health is to help them build the resilience to bounce back from difficulties. Equipping young people with emotional and social skills can help them overcome mental health challenges and support their overall well-being. Social and emotional learning (SEL) is a learning method that fosters strong social and emotional skills, including resilience and empathy. Through SEL, kids gain a better understanding of themselves and the people around them. It allows them to gain the skills and knowledge required when it comes to understanding their emotions, developing their identities, and setting goals.

Challenge yourself and those around you to give

Community organizations work hard to provide mental health programs and services for youth, often without core funding from the government. These organizations depend on fundraising to deliver these important programs. By rising together and rallying your friends, family and co-workers to get behind one of the many great initiatives out there, we can change the way the world sees and treats mental illness.

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VOLUME 21 | ISSUE 6