In a new report, Faculty of Health Sciences assistant professor Dr. Hasina Samji and BC UBC Psychiatry professor Dr. Evelyn Stewart are calling for better coordination of BC youth mental health education and prevention resources.

It takes a village: Supporting youth mental health in the pandemic recovery period

April 26, 2023
Dr. Hasina Samji

by BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute

The following is an excerpt from the full article on the BC Children's Hospital web site.

Dr. Hasina Samji is the lead author of the Improving Youth Mental Health and Well-being During the COVID-19 Recovery Phase in BC report and co-principal investigator of the Improving Child and Youth Well-Being project with Dr. Evelyn Stewart, an investigator and director of research for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at BC Children’s Hospital. She says mental health education and proactive approaches to preventing mental illness need to be better coordinated in B.C.

“We know that we have not been able to move the needle on youth mental health over the last decade, even pre-pandemic,” says Samji, an affiliate investigator with BC Children’s Hospital, a senior scientist in Population Mental Well-being at the BC Centre for Disease Control and assistant professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University.

“There are lots of great people doing amazing work across sectors, but we really need to step up our efforts to collaborate, integrate and not duplicate,” says Samji.

The Improving Youth Mental Health and Well-being During the COVID-19 Recovery Phase in BC report promotes three priority recommendations: serve underserved populations better, improve collaboration among mental health partners, and enhance social and emotional learning strategies in schools and community settings. These recommendations are based on scientific literature, data, interviews with youth and two deliberative dialogues with key stakeholders that considered modifiable factors and successful coping strategies.

Data from Stewart and Samji’s Personal Impacts of COVID-19 Survey and Samji’s Youth Development Instrument survey informed the report.

Their studies, combined with the work of other researchers, found that girls, sexual and gender minorities, racialized minorities, Indigenous youth, young people from low-income households and teens with poorer pre-COVID mental health experienced disproportionately deteriorating well-being during the pandemic.

Dr. Evelyn Stewart

“Youth and their parents repeatedly told us about challenges in accessing mental health support when they needed it,” says Dr. Stewart. It’s unfortunate that those who were vulnerable beforehand were particularly affected during the pandemic.”

Dr. Samji says specific approaches are needed to effectively meet the needs of particular populations.

“We really need to think about targeted and tailored strategies to support those groups,” says Samji.

Silver linings and optimism

“One of the silver linings of the pandemic has been renewed energy and focus on young people’s mental health,” says Samji.

“Research shows positive long-term impacts of mental health literacy across lifetimes. Such programs lead to substantial savings for our health system. It’s important that we recognize that young people become adults who then use our health-care, education, social welfare and justice systems, and if we can prevent the onset of mental illness and contribute to better health and well-being — why not?”

Read the full article at the BCCR’s website