Pandemic and mental health: how to help our teenagers in distress?

With the #PlanteUnCoeur campaign, we invite you to multiply love through a kind gesture while supporting a cause that concerns us all: the well-being of our youth. That's why we're donating $4 from every heart sold to the Tel-Jeunes Foundation. We wanted to take stock of the current situation and get advice from two experts.

Researchers sounded the alarm on January 21 in an open letter published in La Presse. The mental health of our youth is deteriorating and their ability to adapt is eroding," wrote Dr. Marie-Claude Geoffroy and Dr. Jean-Philippe Gouin. They need help more than ever.

"Usually, we don't publish the preliminary results of our studies, but this time we wanted to put what we had found to use...," explains Ms. Geoffroy, a psychologist and professor of school psychology at McGill University, on the phone.

In the Longitudinal Study of Child Development in Quebec, conducted by the Institut de la statistique du Québec, researchers found a significant increase in the proportion of young people with severe depressive symptoms and severe anxiety symptoms (see box). The co-signatories of the letter remind us of the urgency of investing in mental health "to take care of young people now and to allow them to build a better future".

table with statistics on depression and anxiety in youth

Increase in contacts at Tel-jeunes

At Tel-jeunes, a 25 to 30% increase in contacts (chat, texting, emails, calls) has been observed since the beginning of the pandemic. The problems that were already present have been accentuated by the pandemic," says Myriam Day Asselin, Expertise and Innovation Coordinator at the Tel-jeunes Foundation. When schools closed, when young people no longer had access to school workers (psychologists, SBEs, etc.), when they no longer had access to their network of friends, many turned to us for help outside the family unit."

In adolescence, socialization plays a big role in fostering youth well-being. It's a time of discovery, of searching for one's identity, of questioning oneself," says Day Asselin. What do I want to do when I grow up? Am I good enough? These usual questions are no longer answered by the group of friends or extracurricular activities. Many young people find it difficult to project themselves into the future...

More anxious

Among the topics most often discussed by our youth? There is social anxiety, questions about relationships and sexuality, relationships with family members... Home school was also one of the biggest challenges, says Ms. Day Asselin: "When distance school resumed last January, we saw a lot of academic demotivation and depression. The return to face-to-face also brought social anxiety after cutting off all contact."

After each press briefing announcing new restrictive measures, the number of calls to Tel-jeunes increased. For young people, it's difficult to remain hopeful in the context of the pandemic," observes Ms. Day Asselin. As adults, we've already been through other things that allow us to understand that things happen. But in adolescence, we are in the moment and more often in extremes.

What about the parents? At the ParentLine, there has been a 52% increase in contacts since the pandemic began. Parents are also facing challenges," says Day Asselin. They had little support, little network to vent, ask questions about discipline or rules at home. They were worried about their teenagers who were withdrawing or having dark thoughts. With them, our counselors break down each situation to best support each parent."

Prevention above all

Knowing that 70% of mental health problems occur before the age of 25 and 50% before the age of 18, it is important to focus on the beginning of life to implement prevention strategies, says Dr. Geoffroy: "The implementation of a universal prevention and mental health literacy program in schools, better access to care for young people who suffer, the development of effective therapies: it is important to cover a lot of ground.

How can we help our youth?

Are you worried about your youth? Don't know how to handle them? Here's how to help them, according to our experts:

A sympathetic ear. Adults often try to find quick solutions to calm our worries," suggests Myriam Day Asselin. But young people need to feel that they have a space to vent, to express how they feel.

Introduce tools. Parents can introduce relaxation, mindfulness meditation, physical activity or activities practiced in nature so that they discover the benefits," suggests Dr. Geoffroy. They will then be better equipped to take care of their mental health.

"What would you need?" "We don't ask our teens this question enough," Ms. Day Asselin says. We often assume how we can help them. It's a great way to open up the discussion! You can ask them, 'How can we make this time less difficult? How can we get through this together? etc."

Validate emotions, thoughts and behaviors without judging "When we listen, when we are validating, our young person can open up and be in a better position to help him or her or to seek help," explains Marie-Claude Geoffroy. Parents have an important role to play in supporting the young person in the development of good mental health and in seeing the first signs of problems.
To learn more about the current study, click here:

1 800 263-2266

The mission of Tel-jeunes is to help young people find their place in society and develop their full potential. The team takes the time to listen to them, to value them and to give them accurate information in an environment of trust.

1 800-361-5085

Specialists in the parent-child relationship, the professional counsellors of LigneParents offer free and confidential services 365 days a year.

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