Dr. Jean Clinton, a child psychiatrist at McMaster University, told Global News, “Anxiety is the biggest symptom of this overarching stress,” and “It burdens youth, seeping into their daily lives.” Young Canadians are suffering from rising levels of anxiety, stress, depression and even suicide. Close to 20 ppercent– or one in five – have a mental health issue. “Many of us are worried that the number of young people today experiencing mental health problems is on the increase. As a society, we need to be saying this is a crisis,” she said. “Overwhelming anxiety turns on your stress system and if it is kept on, new learning can’t happen. It’s interfering with your learning,” Clinton said.
The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that that total number of 12 to 19-year-olds at risk of depression is a staggering 3.2 million.
2.2% of 5-10-year-olds have anxiety
4.4% of 11-16-year-olds have anxiety
As a young mother, I witnessed my friends’ daughters journeying from childhood to adolescence, transforming from happy, confident, audacious girls to girls with low confidence and fear. Even my own daughter refused to attend school in grade 6 and found herself influenced by anxiety and panic. Many of my friends and I struggled with daughters hampered by anxiety, taking medications and seeing therapists. These girls were from two parent, middle-class families. Involved with our children, we ate dinner at 6:00 and took family vacations. Our daughters had all the benefits of greater equality and visibility than we did growing up, but as adolescents, we were not disposed to cut ourselves or contemplate suicide. I could not understand what was happening, how to help or how to move forward. How do we help our daughters? Why are so many girls “Falling off?”
Having a Master’s degree in Social Work I re-careered myself and took an internship to focus on counselling. I started small part-time practice and became a certified parent coach. My practice began to grow and in 2013 and I began a Ph.D. and graduated from Tilburg University in Holland in 2015. My Ph.D. dissertation was called Girl’s Falling Off. This metaphor is one based on girls riding their bikes full of freedom and fun, and then apparently some girls without cause lose balance and begin to fall. Successfully riding a bike takes coordination, balance, confidence and safe roads. When one or the other is compromised, girls lose balance and begin to fall. I like this metaphor because riding a bike is a terrifically “girl” thing to do. It denotes childhood, freedom, fun, and healthiness. Ultimately, my interest is how we get those girls back in balance, riding with confidence, direction, and purpose. So what is “Falling off”? “Falling off” is losing balance, failing to thrive. It encompasses losing voice, losing confidence, the influence of depression and anxiety, or doing self-harm
So I understand anxiety as a form of “Falling Off.” And while therapists will talk about it in individual terms, what it looks like and how to help, we cannot ever lose site of the fact this is not an individual problem.
So what is going on?
We live in a society which has lost its moorings. We are exceedingly focused on financial security, frenzied about health and fitness, and living within an ever-shrinking social circle. For young people, identities become fragmented and transitory, based on fashion, music, interests, and possessions, trying to create some form of identity pleasing to themselves and others. But, our youth are not sure what makes them feel valuable. We know that buying more stuff and having a higher income is not making us happier. We struggle to understand how to fill our spiritual void and we are living in a society in which people’s needs are not being met. Ultimately, society is failing to provide our children with an understanding of how to build a meaningful identity….Who am I? Why am I here? Why do I matter?
We cannot solely view this as an individual problem but must begin to see this as a larger social problem in order to even begin to help our children. Anxiety is a dis-ease of disconnection, disconnection of relationship, insecurity, lack of grounding, a feeling of “I just don’t fit,´ I am just too small.
So, it is no doubt that so many of us and our children have anxiety. It is present all around us. How can we help our children?
At Thrive I work with children to find workable tools and strategies for coping with anxiety, but also assist them to find new lenses to understand the world around them. Using a combination of cognitive behaviour therapy and mindfulness children gain new ways to evaluate their experiences, thoughts, and feelings.