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

Photo screen-shot from School District 51’s website
COVID-19 infection confirmed in Boundary School District

Those potentially exposed to the virus have been told to self-isolate, says acting Superintendent

Stock image.
Judge tells Grand Forks man accused of theft to guard his personal property

Edward ‘Joe’ Wright is accused of a break and entering at a flood-damaged property in North Ruckle

Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Greenwood man to stand trial for alleged stabbing

Grand Forks provincial court will set a trial date next month

Grand Forks Mounties look on as a tow truck prepares to haul an SUV involved in a Highway 3 crash near the intersection of Spraggett Road Friday, April 9. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
First responders attend Highway 3 crash in Grand Forks

No one appears to be hurt in the two-vehicle crash which highway stopped traffic in both directions

Restaurant patrons enjoy the weather on a patio in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. The province has suspended indoor dining at restaurants and pubs until at least April 19 in B.C. due to a spike in COVID-19 numbers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. sets new COVID-19 daily record with 1,293 cases Thursday

New order allows workplace closures when infections found

Thursday, Feb. 4: RDKB Chief Engineer Darryl Funk hoists a banner commemorating last year’s championship season by the Bantam House Bruins. Photo: Laurie Tritschler
Bantam Bruins honoured at hair-raising banner ceremony at Grand Forks’ Jack Goddard Arena

Asst. coach Mike Tollis said he reluctantly gave in to the team’s victory wish that he cut his pony tale

People walk past the Olympic rings in Whistler, B.C., Friday, May 15, 2020. Whistler which is a travel destination for tourists around the world is seeing the effects of travel bans due to COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Adults living, working in Whistler, B.C., eligible for COVID-19 vaccine on Monday

The move comes as the province deals with a rush of COVID-19 and variant cases in the community

RCMP crest. (Black Press Media files)
UPDATE: RCMP investigating after child, 6, dies at motel in Duncan, B.C.

The BC Coroners Service is conducting its own investigation into the circumstances around the child’s death

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

RCMP display some of the fish seized from three suspects who pleaded guilty to violating the Fisheries Act in 2019, in this undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - RCMP
3 banned from fishing, holding licences after overfishing violations near Vancouver Island

Mounties seized the group’s 30-foot fishing vessel and all equipment on board at the time

B.C. Premier John Horgan responds to questions during a postelection news conference in Vancouver, on Sunday, October 25, 2020. British Columbia’s opposition Liberals and Greens acknowledge the COVID-19 pandemic has presented huge challenges for Horgan’s government, but they say Monday’s throne speech must outline a coherent plan for the province’s economic, health, social and environmental future. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Horgan’s NDP to bring in throne speech in B.C., Opposition wants coherent plan

Farnworth said the budget will include details of government investment in communities and infrastructure

FILE - An arena worker removes the net from the ice after the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames NHL hockey game was postponed due to a positive COVID-19 test result, in Vancouver, British Columbia, in this Wednesday, March 31, 2021, file photo. As vaccinations ramp up past a pace of 3 million a day in the U.S, the NHL is in a tougher spot than the other three major North American professional sports leagues because seven of 31 teams are based on Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP, File)
Vancouver Canucks scheduled to practice Sunday, resume games April 16 after COVID outbreak

Canucks outbreak delayed the team’s season by eight games

Most Read