Speak Your Mind is partnering with Youth Central for monthly fishbowl discussion surrounding mental health and youth. Youth Central is a program that engages youth with community service. Collaborating with Youth Central on this project provided insightful discussions on topics that are important for youth today.
Some of the key topics that were discussed during this session were the effects COVID-19 have had on the participant’s personal relationships and the methods they have used to cope with the current situation. Additionally, all of the participants were in highschool so we also talked about how they felt going back to school with the ongoing pandemic as well as their thoughts on mental health resources for youth.
When asked about how the pandemic has impacted their mental health and their relationships, most of the participants explained how the transition was overwhelming and they felt that they had no control over the situation. Everyday, there were new updates from school and the health sector which forced them to make adjustments to their daily lives. However, they learned the importance of self-care and learned how to take control of their days by planning ahead and ensuring that they made time for their friends by texting and facetiming frequently. It was important for them to create a new routine that incorporated moments for themselves and others. Another difficulty that was expressed was the lack of physical activity and motivation they felt when the pandemic had just started. Learning to adapt to the situation and coming up with unique solutions while implementing structure throughout their day was crucial in overcoming these obstacles.
The participants highlighted how the pandemic has given them more time to explore some of their hobbies and spend more time with family. They had to rely more on their family for emotional support as keeping up with their friends became more difficult. However, they felt that sharing their emotions and thoughts with some of their peers also allowed them to bond more on a deeper level as they were all going through a common obstacle. The participants went on to provide some tips on how to maintain personal relationships during quarantine. Some of these included reaching out to friends frequently and checking to see how they’re doing and creating a time for virtual activities such as watching movies together. One participant noted how the small acts their friends did really meant a lot to them including wishing someone happy birthday.
Another topic of discussion was the accessibility of mental health resources online versus in-person. The participants were aware of services such as the Calgary Counseling Centre and how they were providing virtual sessions, as well as the Distress Centre and ConnecTeen. These are some of the resources that are available and have adapted to meet the needs of youth seeking mental health resources during the pandemic. One concern that was shared was how it is much more difficult to pick on social cues and understand how someone is feeling in a virtual setting. However, more people are open to talking about mental health as it is something that has become more prominent since the pandemic. Teachers have reached out to their students asking if they need support, but the participants noted how there is still a lack of mental health resources available to them in school. There are still barriers that exist that youth face in accessing mental health resources such as stigma, the expectation for today’s youth to be more independent, and the societal expectations that exist for males reaching out for help.
The students felt that there is a lack of communication from the school, which has increased their feelings of anxiety about going back to school. Additionally, they also felt nervous going back to school due to the fear of the pandemic and adapting to new rules and regulations. Some students emphasised their mixed feelings as they were nervous but also excited to see their friends again. More support from their teachers and school would help reduce the anxiety they feel. The participants were also concerned about how their grades would be impacted by this transition, and ways they could cope with feeling unprepared to go back. It would be beneficial for students to learn about mental health at a younger age. A topic that the students believed could be taught in a class specific to mental health is navigating conversations on mental health with their peers as this is something that often comes up. Overall, the participants expressed the need to incorporate mental health into the curriculum.
At the end of our fishbowl discussion, we asked the students to write down a personal reflection statement regarding their experience and takeaways from this session. Here are some of their responses:
“I learned that sharing personal experiences can help with understanding some topics of mental health and help normalize the topic.” – Anonymous
“During this discussion, I feel like I truly understand the significance of always prioritizing yourself before anything. Mental health is truly such a prevalent issue in our society and we can’t even begin to address such issues unless we take the time to reflect about ourselves. Oftentimes, we get so caught up with our responsibilities that we often forget to do things that make us happy and help us achieve mental stability within our lives. It is imperative that we continue to have these discussions about mental health just to create more awareness and to provide more accessible resources for the public.” – Jenny
“Many may feel that having troubles with mental health makes them weak, but acknowledging these issues and getting help is the greatest show of” – Anonymous
“I have listened to a variety of different opinions and reflections that took place in this zoom meeting and I have ultimately made a conclusion. We are all in this together and with the support and aid of others we can get through these tough times. Sharing stories and listening to other people’s thoughts is the only way we will be able to respond and deal with COVID-19. As schools and businesses continue to reopen, I hope to be able to support my friends and family and help them through their hardships in this situation.” – Anonymous
“I learned about how mental health issues impact everyone directly or indirectly, almost everyone here today was able to reflect on the effect of the pandemic on their own mental health. I think these conversations are important to have to normalize mental health issues and bring awareness to how widespread they are. When mental health becomes more normalized, people are more likely to seek out help. I also believe that schools and workplaces can do a better job being transparent about the resources available to address these issues.” – Anonymous
“I’ve learned that over the past few months, my experiences haven’t been that different from others. We’ve all been removed from our routines and schedules and forced to adapt to a new way of living and getting by. We all have to make an effort to maintain our friendships, stay motivated in school and keep ourselves content among other things. With that being said, I feel like I’ve noticed more and more people becoming comfortable with opening up and discussing their mental health. It’s comforting knowing I can go to my friends and voice what’s on my mind, and vice versa. Having a strong support network has been so important for me and kept me sane these past few months. I think the biggest thing to take away from this experience is to communicate and check in often with your friends. After all, we’re all in this together.” – Emily