ARTICLES, HEALTHY LIVING & WELL BEING. EATING DISORDERS
Dispelling Mental Health Myths with TeenMentalHealth.Org
SOS Safety Magazine had the chance to speak with Dr. Stan Kutcher and Dr. Yifeng Wei, both leading mental health authorities in Canada, about the state of youth mental health in our nation, what their organization is doing to improve mental health literacy in classrooms around the world, and the common (and often dangerous) misconceptions that hinder our ability to find solutions for youth when they need it most.
Our interview with these two mental health pioneers was eye-opening, to say the least – and we couldn’t be more thrilled to feature everything they’re doing to create a brighter and healthier society for us all. Their work is truly making an impact, not only here at home, but also for youth around the entire world. We’re honoured they took the time to speak with us.
You can check out our entire interview with TeenMentalHealth.Org below.
1) Can you tell our readers a bit about TeenMentalHealth.Org and what you define your mission as?
Our mission is to provide the knowledge, understanding and tools to improve mental health care for youth. We achieve this through the development and research of evidence-based resources and the direct outreach with educators, youth, parents and healthcare providers. Our goal is to promote mental health literacy to help improve mental health outcomes.
2) How does your organization aim to raise awareness and educate teens/families about mental health and mental health related issues?
We provide the best available, evidence-based information to improve mental health literacy. Our Family Pack is a set of 15 resources aimed at facilitating conversations about mental health amongst families and helping answer any questions youth or parents may have.
Over the past few years, we have been working directly with educators and administrators to bring the Mental Health and High School Curriculum Guide (the Guide) into the classroom setting nationally and internationally. The first of its kind in Canada, the Guide has been proven to improve the mental health literacy of both students and teachers.
Other innovative materials include Know Before You Go and Transitions which are designed to improve success as students move from secondary school to post-secondary education. Our complementary resources Parenting Your Teen and Teening Your Parent are a unique approach to providing essential information on youth development and mental health to both parents and teens.
3) What key accomplishments stand out for you and the organization when it comes to your efforts thus far?
Through the development of the Mental Health and High School Curriculum Guide, we have been able to reach countless educators and youth in the promotion of mental health literacy both in Canada and internationally. All research has shown that through implementing the Guide into the regular school curriculum, mental health literacy and help-seeking efficacy have improved and stigma has decreased.
We are particularly pleased that this approach and resource has been successfully applied in countries as varied as the USA, Malawi, Guatemala, Portugal, England, Tanzania and many more. The intervention and its application are an innovative approach that can be used to improve mental health outcomes for young people globally.
4) At what ages during adolescence (if any, in particular) are we starting to see the most mental illness/mental health problems in Canada?
Approximately 70% of mental illnesses can be diagnosed before the age of 25 which is why adolescence is a critical time for mental health promotion, prevention, early identification and effective treatment for mental illnesses.
5) What is the biggest challenge regarding mental health when it comes to our youth in Canada right now?
According to a brand new study – the most comprehensive of its kind in decades – mental disorders in young people have not increased in the last 30 years but the availability for young people to rapidly access effective mental health care has not improved. In addition, as mental health awareness has occurred in the absence of improved mental health literacy, many youth are endorsing mental distress as a mental disorder – leading to overestimation of illness and over application of treatments.
6) Does TeenMentalHeath.Org focus any efforts on connecting directly with youth? If so, what have you found to be successful methods of connecting with them?
We have been fortunate to be invited to schools to connect directly with youth. Generally, we will conduct some of the activities found in the Curriculum Guide in order to enhance mental health literacy and answer questions youth may have. As well, we facilitate educator training on our resources so the information can be presented to students by their teachers in the classroom setting.
As we provide all of our resources online and free to download, we have also been able to reach youth worldwide through TeenMentalHealth.Org. We are also very active on social media which has given us the opportunity to engage with youth, parents and organizations interested in the promotion of mental health literacy.
7) What do you feel is the current state of youth mental health in Canada? Is it getting worse, better – where do we currently stand?
The same answer here is posted in Question 5.
8) Why do you think depression, anxiety, and other mental health related issues are so pervasive in our culture today, especially when it comes to our youth?
There is no increase in disorders. There is an increase in mental malaise that is being identified as a mental disorder. Here is a good read that addresses this issue:
And also this one: https://www.salon.com/2018/04/14/is-my-child-depressed-being-moody-is-not-a-mental-illness_partner/
9) Do you have any advice for parents on how to talk to their teens about mental health and mental health related issues?
The best and most important thing you can do is educate them about what mental health is, what normal existential experiences are (and that their purpose is to drive the development of resilience) and how to recognize a mental illness if it should occur.
It is essential to support your children through all the challenges and opportunities of their lives. It’s important to listen and acknowledge their feelings and educate yourself. Understanding different mental illnesses and how it may be affecting your child will help you be more supportive and encourage them to seek help if needed. However, this does not mean that parents should bubble wrap their children – this kind of parenting is unhelpful for their growth and development. (http://teenmentalhealth.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Stress-Two-pager.pdf)
10) What resources would you recommend to parents who are struggling to connect with a child suffering from poor mental health?
Our Family Pack is designed to help parents and youth communicate about their mental health and how they are feeling. They are excellent tools to support yourself or a family member in better understanding mental illness and where someone can find help if they need it.
11) What advice would you offer someone who is currently struggling with anxiety, depression, or another mental health-related issue?
Seek adult help and advice. Reach out to a trusted adult such as a teacher, coach, parent, etc. Go to see a mental health professional such as a psychologist, doctor or counsellor.
12) For anyone currently suffering from a mental illness – or trying to support someone suffering from a mental illness – what do you feel is the most important message for them to hear?
That I am here to help and support you.
13) What advice would you give to young people who want to raise awareness and be part of the change?
Start having open conversations about mental health in the same way that we discuss our physical health. There should be no difference in how we address our mental health compared to our physical health. Education is key, so building that foundation in mental health literacy is critical and will help improve knowledge and decrease the stigma associated with mental illness.
14) Do you have any new projects, news, or developments people should be looking out for? And where can people find you if they want to learn more and stay connected?
Right now we are focused on enhancing mental health literacy in schools and continuing to work with districts across the country to implement the Curriculum Guide in their classrooms.
We recently launched two online professional learning platforms to help facilitate the implementation of the Guide and develop a foundation in mental health literacy. Teach Mental Health can be found here: https://www.teachmentalhealth.org/ and is beneficial for pre-service teachers and can be used for in-service teachers. Bringing Mental Health to Schools http://pdce.educ.ubc.ca/MentalHealth/ provides online professional development sessions on how to apply the Guide in the classroom.
For any other updates on our resources or upcoming events, you can check out our website: http://teenmentalhealth.org/ or follow us on social media @Tmentalhealth (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram).