By Bruna Redoschi, Our Kids Network Research Associate
It was a slow night, and I was near the end of my shift. I had started volunteering in emotional support services during the COVID-19 pandemic, using my background in mental health care. It was late, and I was tired. It was the last shift of the day and someone had reached out online at the very last minute. I considered redirecting them to connect the following day, but I saw that it was a young person. I decided to stay a bit longer and listen to them. I am glad I did that. This youth needed to talk.
Most of us have been dealing with the impacts of COVID-19, however, youth were experiencing the greatest decline in self-reported mental health since the pandemic began (Statistics Canada, 2020). In 2019, six in 10 young people in Canada rated their mental health as very good or excellent, while in 2020 amidst the pandemic, this number dropped to four in 10. How were these numbers for youth in Halton? The Halton Youth Impact Survey (HYIS), completed in 2021, shows a somewhat similar picture: only three out of 10 participants aged 13 to 18 rated their mental health as very good or excellent.
Youth Struggle to Share their Mental Health Concerns
Young people have a lot going on in their lives. Growing up has its perks, but it also has its pains and challenges. With the blink of an eye, the child turns into a teenager who needs to make decisions about their studies, career path, and finding their way into adulthood. To top this, came the COVID-19 pandemic with its adapted schedules and constant changes.
There is resiliency and solidarity amongst young people in Halton and there is also a lot of stress and worry. Three out of 10 young persons participating in the HYIS considered most days in their lives to be quite a bit or extremely stressful. Three out of 10 reported feeling low (depressed), irritable, nervous, or having difficulties getting to sleep every day for about six months.
Mental health is a hot topic for youth in Halton. About a quarter of all open comments in the HYIS were on mental health. That was also one of the topics selected by participants at the Youth Data Party. Youth in Halton want to talk about mental health, and they want to be heard without being judged or dismissed. Much has improved over the years, but stigma on mental health is still part of our lives. Some young persons worry that their families would see and treat them differently if they were getting mental health treatment. Even though adults could be a source of support and connection to services and resources, youth feared some of the adults in their lives would not show understanding or take the matter seriously. Talking about mental health and seeking care for a mental health concern should be no different than seeking care for a physical one:
“The first step is to normalize speaking about your mental health. It should be equivalent to talking about a headache.”
– Youth Data Party Participant
Our Duty to Reach out to Youth
What would help? Youth want to know and want their friends to know that there are services they can seek on their own. They want all youth to be able to access youth-friendly mental health services when needed.
Addressing youth mental health is crucial and requires a coordinated effort on the programmatic level. Communities, organizations, schools, parents, and youth are all part of the solution. We can also be part of the solution in our day-to-day approach too. For example, every one of us can ask a young person how they are doing, and then listen, really listen without defaulting to problem-solving for a moment. Young people who feel supported by the people in their lives do better. When you foster connection, you become part of their support network and a bridge to services and resources.
Statistics Canada. (October 20, 2020). Impacts on Mental Health.