VANCOUVER — A resilience researcher says a lower attention span or a change in appetite can be signs that children or teenagers are burned out or needing support.
Speaking to CTV Morning Live on Monday, at the start of Mental Health Week, resilience researcher Dr. Rumeet Billan said recent data suggests more than one million youth have been affected by mental health in Canada, and yet only one-in-five have actually received appropriate treatment.
“The pandemic has impacted the mental health of young people in so many different ways,” said Billan, who is also an education expert and CEO of a training centre called Viewpoint Leadership.
But even before COVID-19, there were long waitlists for mental health services for youth.
“Now what we’ve experienced in the last 417 days has just re-emphasized the need for support,” she said.
The “flip-flopping” the younger demographic has experienced in daily life, including switching from in-class to online or remote learning and back again, or to a hybrid system, has created a sense of instability for some.
Also having an impact on the mental health of young Canadians is the fear of losing a loved one and limited access to sports and other recreation.
Additionally, many are feeling burnt out in the third wave.
“We’ve had to figure out new ways of learning, of doing homework, of connecting with peers, connecting with each other, and it’s been almost 14 months now. What we’re experiencing is the cost of that mental effort involved,” Billan said.
The doctor was asked what signs parents and guardians should watch for if they’re worried their child or teen is struggling with a mental health challenge and not saying anything.
Billan said some signs and symptoms can be very obvious, but others may not be.
Trouble concentrating, or a lower attention span, may be a sign that a young person is struggling. A difference in appetite – increased or decreased – is another thing parents may notice.
Additionally, persistent feelings of sadness could be a tip-off.
“We want to make sure that we keep a look out for these signs among the youth that are in our care,” she said.
For those who aren’t sure how to broach the subject, Billan suggested being mindful of the stigma associated with mental health, and being vulnerable and sharing their own experiences.
“Some days may not be great for you… not every day is going to be a great day, and that’s a natural stress response to what it is that we are experiencing,” she said.
Billan said this can help create a “safe environment” where everyone feels comfortable to share what they’re experiencing.
“I’d also mention checking in,” she said, which could be as simple as asking how the young person is feeling.
“We know with youth, instead of checking in with themselves, they’re checking in with their devices or with social media, and we all know that there is a dark side to social media as well.”
Some youth may need more support than can be provided at home. Billan says there are lots of resources available for children and their parents and guardians online.
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