Our Story: Driving Positive Change for the Mental Well-being of Children and Youth
The first week of May is Mental Health Week in Canada; a time to raise awareness of, and advocate for, mental health. This year’s theme was ‘My Story,’ the aim of which was to amplify voices, share experiences, make connections, and ultimately help people who may feel alone in their own story to recognize themselves in shared stories with others.
Our story today shares these goals.
Through the pandemic, mental health has worsened for many, and those experiencing poorer mental health before the pandemic may have experienced an exacerbation. This includes loneliness and isolation. For children, youth, and young adults, this has been a particularly difficult period of time. We know that poorer mental health, especially for our younger demographic, is a significant societal impact of the pandemic, and this must be an area that we collectively focus our efforts.
We will continue to play a role in addressing the lasting impacts of the pandemic by supporting pandemic recovery, learning, and addressing the societal consequences.
In BC, we have insights from the Surveys on Population Experiences, Action, and Knowledge (SPEAK) into the experiences of British Columbians in relation to mental health. Evidence shows an increase in worsening mental health during the pandemic. Young adults reported disruptions to mental health and difficulty accessing supports, and households with children reported worsening mental health and negative impacts on children’s stress and social connections. This, and other great research, is helping to set the stage for new interventions.
We must focus on prevention. This requires explicit attention so that we can address issues upstream, and tackle the social determinants of health, such as income, discrimination, childhood experiences, and social isolation, that can be drivers of poorer mental health outcomes.
In July 2021, a report was released on the impacts of the pandemic on young adults. This evidence-based report was the first to summarize how the pandemic impacted young adults across Canada, at that time. That report, just over one year into the pandemic, already showed that the measures to control the pandemic were having significant impacts on many areas of young adults’ lives. They were experiencing disruptions to jobs, training, education, and health services, as well as a substantial increase in mental health concerns. Young adulthood is a critical phase of learning and growth and is associated with the development of skills and competencies, a sense of identity, autonomy, supportive relationships, and financial independence. It is success in these areas that promotes lifelong wellbeing.
From the research so far, some actions include:
- addressing challenges to economic wellbeing and opportunities;
- improving mental health, well-being, and social connectedness;
- encouraging health promoting behaviours;
- and promoting young adults’ voices and engagement.
This is not a complete list as more work is required. And it’s not just data; if you look around at people in your life and listen to stories from others, mental health challenges and experiences of isolation and loneliness are present everywhere, everyday. Recognizing this and advocating for change is public health. Being responsive to, and for, people is public health.
To that end, we recently supported and participated in a forum to bring together mental health researchers, advocates, community groups, and individuals with lived and living experience, including youth. The aim of this forum was to create a space to share research, evidence, and experiences in order to synthesize the current state and determine how to provide solutions for children and youth in BC. Events like this are incredibly important. We are proud to fund and be a part of this, to discuss ongoing supports coming out of it, and to consider what’s next, as we work with all our partners.
It is rewarding that we can work with our donors to fund important work like the SPEAK surveys and then see evidence translate into tangible actions like this forum. This helps us learn how best to support responsive solutions and interventions.
Witnessing the devastating impacts of mental health and substance use issues creates an intersection across our work to reduce harms and address threats to the health of our community through our advocacy and fundraising, to help with the toxic drug poisoning crisis. This emergency is seven years long so far, with no end in sight until we all stand up and take action. Action we have the evidence for—we can prevent our children and youth from this crisis, now.
Talk to your friends and family, share supports, learn and understand the issues, and advocate for solutions.
Make connections. Sometimes the simple act of reaching out to someone who is struggling can start a ripple effect of change.
Share evidence-based information. It is very important that mis/dis-information be combatted as it can be especially damaging for anyone experiencing vulnerabilities.
Be present, be aware, and be kind. Sometimes we do not know what someone is experiencing.
Tell your story—this can be to one person, or to many. Sharing stories creates connection and shared experiences. This is key to reducing stigma, creating safe spaces, and saving lives.
Support us as we take action on ways to help. Donate today.
While we are a funder, we also play a role in raising awareness of public health and the need for a well-funded, proactive, and equitable system. We act as a bridge between experts and publics to ensure that we raise up the voices of those we are serving, including youth.
By bringing together philanthropy, funding, partnerships, engagement, and advocacy we aim to advance our vision of a healthier, safer, more equitable future for all. It is our goal to bring this to the mental health space, supporting specific pandemic recovery solutions, collaborations, activities that focus on prevention and address root causes, and raising awareness so that we as a society can come together to take care of our younger generations.
By focusing your attention on your friends, family, community, and society overall, you can also create positive change in the world around you. The environment in which we all work, live, and play is critical to our health, and our mental health matters more than ever right now. This is our Activate Health mission, a call for you to be a health ambassador in your community.
This is our story. We will keep writing this story for children, youth, and everyone.