Push to destigmatize mental health as young people struggle through pandemic

The pandemic has taken a toll on many people’s mental health, but the impacts have been especially devastating for youths in and out of foster care.

Many of these young people, already struggling with mental health issues, are experiencing increased anxiety and depression due to the uncertainty, financial hardship and isolation created by the pandemic.

“There’s been a lot in my life that I’ve had to deal with, throughout my time in care and then again with loss during the pandemic” said Braydon Chapelas, marketing and communications specialist at Aunt Leah’s Place.

Chapelas grew up in the system, which he says presents its own challenges. But after losing his mother and sister in the first half of 2020, he knew he needed to seek help.

“I lost my sister to mental health in February of 2020. I lost my mum to cancer in June of 2020,” said Chapelas.

Organizations like Aunt Leah’s Place https://www.auntleahs.org/ and Dan’s Legacy https://danslegacy.com/ connected him with a counsellor. Both groups have made counseling a priority during the pandemic.

“That sense of isolation and being alone, in addition to being under housed, under serviced and undervalued in our society. It was a recipe for a huge disaster for our folks,” sad Sarah Stewart, executive director with Aunt Leah’s Place.

CHILDREN, TEENS STRUGGING MORE THAN EVER

Stress and loneliness was already on the rise among kids and youth before the pandemic – and now, doctors say there is a crisis across the country.

“Anxiety has increased ER visits for people under the age of 10, by 24 percent in North America,” said Dr. Shimi Kang, psychiatrist and founder of Dolphin Kids Counselling.

Kang says technology adds to the anxiety.

“There are new diagnoses that aren’t official yet. Virtual autism. Kids who are spending so much time on screens, they are lacking social skills and eye contact. They look like they have autism, but it’s more related to isolation and screen time,” added Kang.

According to University of Calgary study published in the medical journal JAMA Pediatrics, depression and anxiety symptoms have doubled in children and adolescents, particularly in girls, compared to pre-pandemic times. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2782796

“The combination of rising levels of stress and loneliness with rising levels of perfectionism, connected to social media and our modern world,” said Kang.

The crisis has advocates calling for more mental health programs, to help youth suffering from pandemic challenges.

“Those findings I think show we need to make sure our resources, services and policies, adjust and adapt for these differences we see,” said Jonny Morris, chief executive officer at the Canadian Mental Health Association, B.C. Division.

There’s also a need to educate youth on how to ask to for help, when they need it.

“It’s OK to feel the emotions you feel. The more we can get over the stigma of mental health, the better off we will be moving forward,” said Chapelas.

Wednesday marks Bell Let’s Talk Day, an initiative that aims to raise awareness and take action on mental health issues, especially amid the impact of COVID-19.

Bell will donate five cents for every call or text message by a Bell customer, #BellLetsTalk hashtag used on Twitter and TikTok, or view of the Bell Let’s Talk Day video on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube.

CTV News is a part of Bell Media, whose parent company is BCE Inc.