UCalgary study shines light on youth global mental health crisis

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University of Calgary study shines light on global youth mental health crisis
WATCH: A new study out of the University of Calgary finds that an alarming amount of children and adolescents living through the COVID-19 pandemic are struggling with their mental health. As Tracy Nagai reports, new findings show that depression and anxiety symptoms have doubled when compared to pre-pandemic times. – Aug 13, 2021

A new study out of the University of Calgary (UCalgary) shows an alarming percentage of children and adolescents navigating the COVID-19 pandemic are experiencing a global-wide mental health crisis.

“For depressive symptoms we’re seeing about one in four youth and for anxiety, it’s one-in-five,” said UCalgary post-doctoral research fellow Dr. Nicole Racine. “These are double what we would normally see in pre-pandemic times.”

Read more: Mental health could ‘bounce back’ post-pandemic, new research suggests

The study looks at 29 separate studies from around the world, including more than 80,000 youth. Racine who is a clinical psychologist said she’s not surprised by the research team’s findings.

“When we started seeing kids and families who were literally lining up at our doors to receive services, our sense was this was an international phenomenon.”

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The study also shows girls and older adolescents have been affected most.

Click to play video: 'Promoting children’s mental health'
Promoting children’s mental health

“Girls, we know, rely on their emotional support networks more so than boys,” Racine said. “When you’re 16 or 17 (years old) and your developmental task is to differentiate from your family and to be out in the world, that’s really been inhibited in the last 18 months.”

“Older youth have missed out on major milestones. They’ve missed out on proms and being able to see their friends and significant others.”

Fifteen-year-old Cianna Renfrow knows this all too well. At the beginning of Grade 10, she started online learning due to members of her family being considered high risk if they contracted COVID-19.

“It’s that feeling of being left out or missing out on something,” Cianna said. “It was just feeling emotionally drained and having a huge lack of motivation to do things.”

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Read more: Alberta keeping COVID-19 measures for another six weeks

Cianna’s mother Selina Renfrow said she noticed changes in her daughter over the winter months as the course load changed.

“You’re just kind of sitting in front of a computer and a screen for hours and hours and hours,” Selina said. “That’s why we were like, ‘Let’s try and get ahead of this. Let’s not wait for a crisis situation to happen.'”

Cianna said talking with her therapist at the Calgary Counselling Centre has helped and she plans to check in with her therapist if she’s feeling overwhelmed.

“One of the things that really helped was telling myself ‘it’s not going to be like this forever, you’ll be able to go back to school sometime, eventually,’” she said.

Read more: Alberta Teachers’ Association calls on province to implement 9 COVID-19 measures in schools

The UCalgary study includes recommendations such as increasing mental health supports and prioritizing getting kids back into the classroom.

Racine said it’s also important for parents to listen and empathize with their children before they start to problem solve.

“We really encourage opening up the conversation and finding moments where you can have a bit of a conversation about how your child or youth is doing.”


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