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How students can manage mental wellness during the school year

Alyse Kotyk, CTV News Vancouver
Published Thursday, August 15, 2019 2:26PM PDT 

More than a million youth in Canada are affected by mental illness, but less than 20 per cent of young people will get the help they need.

That’s according to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, which also says that 20 per cent of Canadian youth will develop a mental illness by the time they’re 25.

Recent BCIT graduate, Fiona Ma, hopes to help reduce some of the stigma around mental illness. She volunteers with Jack.org, a Canadian charity that trains and empowers youth to revolutionize mental health.

“Although mental health is spoken about so much these days, there’s still a really big stigma around mental health,” she told CTV Morning Live on Thursday. 

“Ending that silence will allow for students to feel more comfortable and talk about their mental health and feel more comfortable seeking the help that they need.” 

Jack.org completed a survey recently, revealing some of the factors that create mental health stress according to students. 

On the top of the list were academic and social pressures, lack of time for self-care and social media use. 

“We’re often comparing ourselves to others and to friends, whether it be our lifestyles or our bodies or just how we’re living,” Ma said about social media. 

“It also leads to late night scrolling, which ends up with less sleep and … sleep is a very important part of our mental health.”

When she was in a rigorous nursing program, Ma said she and her friends sometimes found it hard to seek the mental health support they needed. 

Now, ahead of the new school year, she is offering tips to other students. 

“Be your own advocate,” Ma said, adding that speaking to teachers and knowing what resources are available can help reduce stress. 

She also encourages students to look out for each other, especially because one of the biggest barriers for students seeking help is a feeling of shame. 

“It’s really important that you’re not only looking after yourself, but for the people around you,” she said. 

“If you see signs of struggle in any of your friends or classmates, just reaching out and kind of asking them how they are and if they’re not doing OK, connecting them to help.”

On Thursday, a death review panel looking into child and youth suicides in B.C. gave its key recommendations into supporting youth mental well-being. 

Among them, the panel said adopting mental well-being strategies as emotional learning for students, identifying and distributing youth mental health guidelines and expanding youth mental health services to non-urban areas are important strategies to reducing youth suicides in the province. 

“Almost 70 per cent of serious mental health issues emerge before the age of 25. Programs directed at children in schools and best practice guidelines for health-care providers providing diagnosis and services are important in preventing these deaths,” said death review panel chair, Michael Egilson in a news release. 

“Predicting suicide is difficult, which is why it is so important to ensure that all youth have access to the tools and resources to support their mental well-being, as well as ensuring appropriate services are available for youth who are struggling.”

For those heading back to school soon and maybe attending post-secondary for the first time, Ma encourages students to be bold when they need support. 

“I’d advise them to step out of their comfort zone and talk to someone about it,” she said. “Seeking that help is really important and sometimes that nervousness with the first day is very common so maybe just leaning on those that you know care about you and support you.” With files from CTV Morning Live’s Jason Pires and Keri Adams

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