Nurturing Children and Youth Mental Health

By

Layla Team

August 11, 2022

What affects children’s mental health?

  While difficulty in managing stress and adversity is experienced by all, children and youth are an especially vulnerable population due to their constant physical and cognitive development. 70% of those with a mental illness report their symptoms emerged before age 18, which suggests that healthy social and emotional development during this developmental period significantly impacts one's mental health.

  Of note, mental health is not solely defined as the absence of illness, but according to the World Health Organization, it also encompasses a state of well-being in which individuals are able to learn new skills, face daily stressors by managing thoughts, build social relationships, and eventually contribute to society via productive work.

These early formative years are arguably one of the most fast-changing, tumultuous, and impactful ones experienced.

  Additionally, an unexpected global pandemic has certainly taken a toll on young people, with 57% of youth aged 15 to 17 reporting their mental health declined since strictly socially distancing. Since 2019, the CAMH has found higher self-reported eating disorders, depression and anxiety, substance use, screen usage (and experienced cyberbullying) in Ontario Youth. According to Statistics Canada, while 62% of Canadian youth reported excellent or good mental health, this has dropped to just 40% in 2020. During such challenging times, nurturing kids’ mental health is essential.       

 

How to nurture a child's mental health? 

  In nurturing a child or teen’s mental health, awareness of early warning signs is essential. Mental health challenges related to anxiety, depression, and eating disorders (among others) may be characterized by feelings of hopelessness or feeling irritable, as well as by sudden weight loss, social withdrawal, difficulty concentrating and sleeping, and other physical symptoms such as headaches or migraines. Missing school, academic performance changes, and/or risky behaviours are also signs that parents or youth can be mindful of.

A recent study found that two-thirds of youth aged 12 to 17 rated their mental health less positively than their parents. This suggests that parents are not always aware of the challenges their children are facing.  Notably, research has shown that factors like openness with their parents, perceived care, and higher communication with parents are associated with lower rates of depression and higher self-esteem.

Attuned parents can help set a foundation for a relationship of trust and openness – a channel through which kids can learn healthy communication. Kids need to be able to voice their concerns rather than hiding them. Parents can help develop healthy self-esteem in their kids by showing acceptance, helping them set realistic goals and by showing interest in their activities and schoolwork. Allowing their kids to safely explore failure is also key to building healthy resiliency. When adults are supportive, gentle adversity is a good opportunity to gain new skills and coping strategies. This is especially important for teens as they undergo the natural process of detachment from their parents.

Youth and teens can also learn to make healthy choices by focusing on the basics: eating a healthy diet, physical activity, learning good sleep hygiene practices, and monitoring their social media usage. One common challenge since the start of the pandemic has been increased screen time.  In fact, many youths over the past two years have exclusively used virtual services for socializing, academics, recreation, etc.

According to pediatrician Dr. Kelley Zwicker, following the age-specific recommended screen times can aid in better sleep regulation and better eating habits.  Decreased screen time can also help prevent harmful factors such as video game addiction and exposure to cyberbullying.  

What are the benefits of early intervention in mental health?

 

  Due to the increasing rates of mental health issues in children and youth, access to early services is essential. Waiting for services has been associated with poorer overall mental health and physical health outcomes.

In contrast, early assessment and detection of warning signals allow for teaching children and youth the necessary skills for emotional self-regulation and allowing a safe space for open communication with a professional. This can be helpful for reducing anxiety, depression, and other challenges.  Providing support and coaching to parents can assist in building positive interactions as well as help them to best support their child.

  Finding the right fit between a client’s needs and the service provider is a key factor to the overall success of therapy.  Mental health professionals trained in working with kids and youth can provide psycho-education to children/parents on specific mental health symptoms and conditions, teach healthy coping strategies, and foster healthy emotional growth. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) approaches have been shown to help shift teens’ tendency from solely relying on emotion-driven behaviours to more healthy and careful consideration of emotions and thoughts. Professionals who are empathic, client-centred, and take the time to build rapport and listen to their young clients can provide valuable support to children and youth.

  To find the right provider for you/your child, try speaking with your family physician.  He/she/they can start by assessing your child’s current symptoms and making referrals to the appropriate services.
Resources for youth include:

Canada:

·   Kids Help Phone – One-on-one live chatting with a counsellor

·   New Path Youth and Family Services - free in-person or virtual services for children and youth, including groups.

·   Now What? Support Services – DBT and CBT approaches for children and/or parents

British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario:

Over 80 Layla therapists specialize in supporting youth and children. If you have any questions, connect with our Care Coordination team to learn more at contact@layla.care.

Ontario:

·   Children’s Mental Health of Ontario - to explore online and in-person services.

·   School Mental Health Ontario (SMHO)- to promote student mental health programs and provide resources for early interventions.      

Alberta:

· Alberta Health Services for Children and Youth - to explore services based on mental health needs

·   Mental Health Help Line - for confidential mental health support 24/7

British Columbia: 

British Columbia Child & Youth Mental Health - for referral services, including individual and group services

Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre - to explore resources available to both youth and parents

Eating Disorders: 

National Eating Disorder Information Centre - to receive information on ED’s and linkage to resources, including a helpline 

Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences - to receive in-patient support for eating disorders and other available programs 

Maudsley Parents - to explore options available to parents who have kids suffering from EDs