Doctors and counsellors warn of an increase in panic attacks, anxiety, depression and suicide ideas between ages 10 to 14, in Campbell River. ( Black Press file photo)

Doctors and counsellors warn of an increase in panic attacks, anxiety, depression and suicide ideas between ages 10 to 14, in Campbell River. ( Black Press file photo)

Extended pandemic feeding the anxieties of B.C.’s youth

Parents not sure what to do, urged to reach out for help

Lately, when 15-year-old K (name withheld to protect identity) arrives outside her school in Campbell River, nervousness sets in.

Her legs start shaking, her entire body begins to tremble and she gives way to uncontrollable sobbing.

Her parents eventually turn the car around and take her back home, to try again the next day.

The heightened anxiety attacks are new for both K and her parents, especially because their daughter is an above average student and has never had a problem going to school until a couple months ago, says K’s mother.

To add to the dilemma, new COVID-19 regulations require students to sit at one place for five hours with minimal interactions with their classmates and focus on one subject for five straight weeks. Missing one day of school leaves a student with a gap of five hours of math class, says K, and adding further to her anxiety.

RELATED: Report finds COVID-19 accelerated declining mental health of Canadian youth

RELATED: Vancouver Islanders using art to conquer COVID blues

When K spoke to the Black Press Media, it was difficult for her to articulate what was going on, since it was a novel experience. But she wanted to speak about it because “many” of her peers are in the same boat.

The disruption of routines and isolation – ushered in by the pandemic – has caused a massive surge in mental health issues among youth, says Dr. Jan Coetzee a Campbell River family doctor. According to him, structure is very important for children and when that changes due to disruption, it affects their mental health.

Many of Coetzee’s young patients have been reporting issues like anxiety, panic attacks, depression and suicidal ideations for the past year.

While psychiatrists are seeing behavioural relapse in individuals who are on medications and were reasonably well controlled previously, they are also witnessing an increase in number of youths without previous diagnosis.

“It’s not just a pandemic of coronavirus in Campbell River, we have a pandemic of mental health exacerbation as well,” says Coetzee.

Wendy Richardson, executive director of the John Howard Society of North Vanouver Island said there is a spike in mental health issues among children as young as 11.

“Our mental health counselors have been working with kids with a lot of additional anxiety and suicide ideation,” she said and added, “It has been alarming… Suicide is high on our radar.”

“The reason I say it’s scary is because, historically, it’s not an age group where suicide ideation has been high on our list of things they are dealing with,” she said.

In 14 years of his practice as a physician in Campbell River, Coetzee also said that this is the first time he has seen such a serious spike in mental health issues among a young age group. (Campbell River previously had a spike in deaths by suicide between 2008 and 2010 in the city).

Since January, Campbell River’s School District 72 had two cases of deaths by suicide – a 12-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy. These deaths have raised an alarm for parents in the community.

“Parents are afraid, I hear people say things like ‘I don’t know how to be a father/mother anymore.’ They feel ill-equipped to deal with such situations as they don’t want to push their children to the edge,” Coetzee said.

But there are many who are still not aware of what is going on with their children since a lot of them prefer not to talk to their parents about their issues. In such instances, Coetzee recommends youths call counsellors and experts on helplines.

School District 72 superintendent Jeremy Morrow says schools in the area were concerned about mental health issues even before the pandemic set in. The pandemic has amplified it.

“We have seen an increased number of referrals all the way down to elementary, in regards to anxiety and other mental health concerns,” says Morrow. The school district has added additional support to deal with this, including a multi-agency approach, he says.

According to Richardson, mental health issues are also exacerbated by social media – especially the heavy reliance on social media by children to stay connected during isolation.

With the pandemic “dragging on” there’s a further increase in “anxiety and despair” among this age group as they begin to lose hope about things going back to normal.

“Young people are resilient enough to sudden change,” says Richardson, but prolonged ones like the extended shut down has been hard on them.

If anything, the pandemic has only brought a lot of underlying issues to the forefront, says Coetzee. Therefore he recommends a realistic approach to mental health for youngsters – exercise, eat three meals a day, get six to eight hours of sleep, seek counselling when in need. He also advises families to “repair core values” which includes working together as a unit and establishing lost connections.

“Most of my young patients are compliant to these recommendations and I’m seeing positive results,” he says.

Unless these fundamental changes are incorporated, even if the pandemic is over and people are vaccinated, this cycle is not going to be over, he says.

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.

Helpline numbers and resources for BC:

Crisis lines across BC can be found on www.crisislines.bc.ca

Online service for adults: http://crisiscentrechat.ca/

Online service for youths: www.YouthinBC.com

Mental health support/ Centre for suicide prevention : 310-6789 (no area code needed)

1-800-suicide: 1-800-784-2433

Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre caters to parents, caregivers, youth and young adults. Compass Mental Health : 1-855-702-7272 email: compass@cw.bc.ca; Youth Line: 647-694-4275

First Nations Health Authority, Native youth crisis hotline: 1-877-209-1266; Trans Lifeline: 1-877-330-6366.

Campbell Rivermental health

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C.’s public health restrictions on non-essential travel are reinforced by orders effective April 23, 2021 to stay within your own regional health authority except for essential travel such as work and medical appointmens. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 non-essential travel ban takes effect, $575 fines approved

Checks on highways, ferries between Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, Interior

The Horsefly highway at the Bells Lake Road junction is closed Friday morning, April 23, 2021. (Eric Irving Facebook photo)
‘There is no simple solution’: Floodwaters collapse Horsefly Road east of Williams Lake

Beaver Valley Road to Likely Road the best option for those with cars

Red dresses hang in front of the Cariboo Friendship Centre in Williams Lake. (Photo submitted)
Advocates call for stronger judicial protection for women of domestic violence

May 5 is National Day of Awareness on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

First Journey Trails CEO Thomas Schoen (from left), Jimco Services’ James Doerfling, Williams Lake First Nation Chief Willie Sellars and Sugar Cane Archaeology’s Marvin Bob break ground on a new mountain biking trail network project at WLFN. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
WATCH: Williams Lake First Nation breaks ground on multi-use bike trail project

Phase one of the project will see the construction of a 1,750-metre hiking and biking trail

Kimberley case counts not at the point for 18 years and older community vaccination, says Interior Health. (File photo)
Many factors considered for smaller community-wide vaccination: Interior Health

East Kootenay resort town’s COVID-19 situation not at the point of community-wide vaccination, say officials

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Nic Hume and his fellow paramedic stopped to rescue the victim of an Oak Bay hit-and-run – a duck – at the end of their shift Thursday morning. (Nic Hume/Facebook)
B.C. paramedics don’t duck a chance to help someone in need

Ambulance duo end a long shift by helping a distressed duck in Victoria suburb

As the snow in Manning Park melts, searchers are able to get a little farther each day. Photo submitted
Family resumes search for son missing in B.C.’s Manning park since October

‘This is our child, and we don’t give up on our children,’ said mother of Jordan, Josie Naterer

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canada buys 65M Pfizer booster shots for protection against COVID-19 variants

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the deal with Pfizer includes options to add 30 million doses in both 2022 and 2023, and an option for 60 million doses in 2024

A plan flew over the Lower Mainland with a sign expressing some Canucks fans’ discontent with the team’s general manager. (Niqhil Velji - Twitter Screenshot)
#FireBenning movement gets off the ground in Metro Vancouver

Canucks fans raise enough money to fly banner over Metro Vancouver asking for team GM to be canned

The freed osprey keeps a wary eye on its rescuers after being deposited on its nest. (Photo credit: Greg Hiltz)
Hydro crew in Ashcroft gets osprey rescue call-out they won’t soon forget

Bird was tangled in baling wire hanging from a hydro pole, necessitating a tricky rescue

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth speaks to media at the Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday February 5, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to announce travel restrictions today to limit COVID-19 spread

Mike Farnworth is expected to give details of what the government views as essential travel

Richard Desautel with supporters outside the courthouse in Nelson, B.C., in 2016. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
UPDATED: Sinixt, First Nation bordering Canada-U.S., can claim Indigenous rights, top court rules

The decision essentially reverses a 1956 declaration the Sinixt were extinct

Most Read