May 9, 2014 6:24 pm

Mental health issues increasing in young children

Alexis Rowe is only in Grade 4 but says she struggles to deal with stress.

Kurt Brownridge / Global News

WINNIPEG – Alexis Rowe is a typical Grade 4 student, but on top of worrying about homework, the 10-year-old also has to deal with stress, anxiety and bullies.

“I don’t know what I do but apparently I do everything wrong to get bullied,” Alexis told Global News, adding she feels scared some days going to school.

Those are difficult words that no parent wants to hear.

“I remember just going to school and being a kid and having fun and having friends, not like it is today” said Jodie Kenyon, Alexis’s mom.

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Alexis isn’t alone. A survey of Winnipeg School Division students found children in as early as Grade 4 are reporting an increase in stress, anxiety and depression.

“I think that our children are very structured and huge demands are placed on them,” said Olga Wyshnowsky, the Winnipeg School Division Student Services Consultant. “I think technology is also a factor for children. The world just never really turns off.”

The division offers supports to students and parents to better help children cope.

Wyshnowsky said some stress can be a good thing but it is important to notice when it becomes unmanageable.

“Parents need to know their children well,” said Olga Wyshnowsky, the Winnipeg School Division Student Services Consultant. “They need to recognized when they see a change in behaviour, they need to keep the conversations on going about what is happening in that child’s life.

More help is now on the way. The True North Foundation is offering an empowering mental health curriculum to Manitoba teachers beginning next school year.

“For us and our association with the team it is almost like a moral obligation for us to be able to provide this,” said Dwayne Green, the Executive Director of the foundation.

Project 11 aims to help students develop positive coping skills such as laughter and dance.

Green hopes 50 schools will sign on in the first year. It will be targeted towards Grades 5 through 8.

“At that age they are cognitively able to see or feel the stress,” said Green.

The project was developed in honour of Rick Rypien, a former Manitoba Moose and Vancouver Canuck player who killed himself before being able to lace up for the Jets.

“One of the things Rick said when he came out of the last bout of treatment was that he wanted to help youth,” Green said. “For us there has been some concern about glorifying what happened with Rick but for us it is about adhering to his wishes.”

Green is developing the program with help from superintendents across Manitoba as well as the province.

The True North Foundation is completely covering the cost of the program thanks to money raised through 50/50 draws at Winnipeg Jets games.

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