It is often said that children and youth are the future of our society. As a parent, but also as a specialist in child and youth mental health, it makes sense that National Child and Youth Mental Health Day holds special significance to me. I have seen the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children, youth, and their families. While most families have coped as well as can be hoped for, others have faced tremendous challenges resulting in adverse impacts on mental health and in substance use.
To help bring awareness to the mental health of children and youth during these difficult times, BC’s doctors have partnered with a number of agencies and individuals. For example, BC doctors are partnering with the BC Healthy Child Development Alliance to kick off the 13-week ‘Feelings First’ social media campaign starting on May 17. This campaign is aimed at supporting British Columbians who care for children aged 0-5 years. The campaign’s goal is to drive awareness of the importance of early social and emotional development (SED) and trusting relationships as key components in a child’s growth. Social and emotional development has the capacity to influence the trajectory and potential of young lives, the lives of their families, and our society. Each week a new message with accompanying materials and images will be launched by the campaign @FeelingsFirst. The campaign will share ways to take action, educate on impact and outcomes of SED, and spark discussion and storytelling.
An ongoing initiative, the Child and Youth Mental Health and Substance Use Community of Practice brings together hundreds of doctors in the fields of family medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, and emergency medicine to advocate for a seamless system to prevent, assess, and treat mental health and substance use problems. This work is important even outside a pandemic, but has taken on increased urgency as children, youth, and families continue to reel from the impacts of necessary pandemic restrictions, disruption to support networks, and economic malaise. The Community of Practice’s last in-person gathering occurred the week before pandemic restrictions were implemented in BC. However, the work carries on online and in communities throughout BC.
This has been an unusual year in which we have rightly focused on protecting adults, particularly older adults, from the ravages of a virus that has mostly spared our young people. I would argue that as we turn towards recovery from this pandemic, we owe a similar duty to children and youth who have been facing their own set of challenges. I know some children who have never experienced a ‘normal’ birthday. Some do not know what their school looks like outside their own classroom, have forgotten basic social skills, or have become anxious around other kids after a year with little socialization outside their school cohort. Teens and young adults saw jobs evaporate and have seen the slowest recovery out of all groups. Many now also face a housing market that is more out of reach than ever.
We owe it to children and youth to put just as much effort into creating a hopeful future for them as we did to save adults from COVID-19. Hope is necessary for humans to survive and thrive in even the most challenging of circumstances. Investing in their education, extracurricular programs, sports, arts, music, and addressing jobs and housing would have the most meaningful and lasting impact on the mental health of children and youth.
- Dr Matthew Chow