Healthy Living in the North

Back to Basics

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Fall 2018 edition on Youth Mental Wellness. Read the full issue here.)

What makes some youth thrive? What makes some youth struggle? Why do some youth flourish in the face of adversity while others grab on to higher risk behaviours and means to cope? While these questions are very common, their answers are very complicated and difficult to address. What we know for sure is that both youth and adults have some power to impact their mental health.

One of the ways we can foster positive mental health is by building a wellness plan that really has a back to basics approach. Key pieces include nutrition, sleep, social connectedness, and delayed or safer substance use practices – all of which we can empower youth to consider in their day-to-day lives. 

Nutrition

Adolescence is a time of significant growth. Youth need to fuel their bodies and minds to feel their best. Nutrition education and food skills training are a great way to engage youth in learning about fueling their body and how the foods we eat impact the way we feel both physically and mentally. Taking some time to build breakfast, lunch, and dinner plans into the schedule can have big impacts. Including youth in the planning and preparing of meals can support skill building and provide opportunity for connection.   

Sleep

A good night’s sleep is important for both physical and mental health. The amount of growing and developing underway in the body and minds of youth requires a great deal of rest. The Canadian 24-hour movement guidelines suggest youth ages 5 to 13 should strive for 9 to 11 hours of sleep, while youth ages 14 to 17 should aim for 8 to 10 hours. You know you are getting enough sleep when you wake feeling rested and ready to take on the day. Lack of sleep can lead to challenges with concentration at school, more aggressive or agitated behaviour, and even avoidance of usual activities. 

Social Connection

Youth benefit from social connection to peers, family, schools, and communities. Connectedness that remains intact as they move through the years help them gain a sense of self-identify. It can be valuable for teens to have different groups of friends (e.g. engaging with sports, arts, and education programs), so that if one peer group becomes inaccessible, there are still people around for youth to relate to.  Establishing connection to people and spaces that are diversity-welcoming and substance free goes a long way to support mental health and preventing onset of substance use. 

Substance Use

A primary piece of substance use prevention is delaying uptake of substance use by youth until later in life. We know that the earlier youth begin to use substances, the more likely they are to develop a substance use disorder later in life. Ensuring access to drug education, engaging in/with activities and environments that are diversity-welcoming and substance free, and have access to a full continuum of substance use services is beneficial. Youth should also consider their intake of caffeine or energy drinks along with alcohol, cannabis, and tobacco and consider safer ways to consume if substances are part of their lives. Reducing the amount of substance use, the frequency of use, and finding lower risk methods of consumption, using less potent products will all contribute to a harm reduction approach to substance use.

Resources

For more information on promoting positive mental health in youth, or to find information on specific mental health and substance topics, please visit Kelty Mental Health online at or Here to Help BC at or the Canadian Mental Health Association of BC.

Stacie Weich

About Stacie Weich

Stacie Weich is the Regional Mental Wellness and Prevention of Substance Harms Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. A passion for people and wellness has driven her to pursue a career in mental health and substance use. The first 10 years of her career were spent at a non-profit in Quesnel. Shen then moved to Prince George to join Northern Health in 2008. Stacie has fulfilled many roles under the mental health and substance use umbrella since then (EPI, ED, NYTC, COAST, AADP, YCOS). In her off time Stacie enjoys spending time with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs, and other family and friends in beautiful northern BC!

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Social and emotional well-being at school: The Bulkey Valley School District supports mental wellness in the classroom

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Summer 2018 edition on Healthy Schools. Read the full issue here.)
Co-authored by Stacie Weich, regional lead for mental wellness & prevention of substance harms, and Taylar Endean, past regional nursing lead for healthy schools.

Children interacting at school.

Social and emotional health in youth is associated with higher academic performance, positive mental health experiences, and better life outcomes. Everyone benefits when we incorporate mental health promotion, prevention, and early identification into schools! Collaborative, sustainable, and informed work in this area will help everyone prioritize wellness in every classroom.

B.C. is making strides towards enhancing the curriculum to reflect and grow social and emotional health, and has introduced a new program that includes social and emotional core competencies. The Bulkley Valley (School District 54) has found an excellent and innovative way to meet that goal: they have hired a Social Emotional Helping Teacher (SEHT).

This teacher driven support begins with a teacher reaching out to the SEHT asking for help. The SEHT meets with the classroom teacher for a planning session on embedding well-being into the curriculum, rather than individual, one-off lessons. They work with teachers and students in collaboration, planning and implementation of the new social emotional curriculum requirements into the classroom. This is done is various ways and is driven by the individual classroom. The SEHT assists in incorporating personal and social responsibility into everyday school activities in different subjects such as Language Arts, Science, Music, Art classes and fields trips. This is done through various methods such as storytelling, identifying personal heroes, bringing music and crafts to seniors homes, caring for the environment, personalized drawings/colouring to identify self-awareness, stressors and stress management.

The WellAhead graphic.

 The SEHT attends 3-4 sessions with the teacher and co-teaches with them, building their capacity, confidence, and skills in these topics!

This resource offers a huge support to the teachers and school staff, and encompasses the Comprehensive School Health Framework. Due to increasing demand, this program has grown from a two to four day per week position!

Moving forward, the Bulkley Valley District and Northern Health have teamed up to engage in a coaching grant opportunity secured through the WellAhead – McConnell Foundation. WellAhead is a national initiative focused on integrating social and emotional well-being into young people’s education for long term change. The McConnell Foundation is a private Canadian foundation that develops and applies innovative approaches to social, cultural, economic, and environmental challenges. Together, these programs connect health and education with expertise and tools that help build plans to enhance the wellness in our region. Granting opportunities can be found on the McConnell Foundation website.

What is your school doing to support social and emotional well-being for the students, teachers and staff? Mental health is truly everyone’s business, so take some time to think about how your school environment is promoting these kinds of wellness. After all, we’re all responsible for ensuring that school is a safe, fun, and healthy environment for all.

Stacie Weich

About Stacie Weich

Stacie Weich is the Regional Mental Wellness and Prevention of Substance Harms Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. A passion for people and wellness has driven her to pursue a career in mental health and substance use. The first 10 years of her career were spent at a non-profit in Quesnel. Shen then moved to Prince George to join Northern Health in 2008. Stacie has fulfilled many roles under the mental health and substance use umbrella since then (EPI, ED, NYTC, COAST, AADP, YCOS). In her off time Stacie enjoys spending time with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs, and other family and friends in beautiful northern BC!

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Supporting Conversation, Not Consumption

Cannabis is now legal for adults to use in Canada. No matter which side of this change you stand, the quest for knowledge, debate, and conversation about this subject is impressive. People are looking for accurate information to make informed choices, creating a great window of opportunity for individuals, families, organizations, schools, and communities to consider their substance use practices, policies, prevention strategies, and goals. It’s a great time to consider ways to promote and protect health from substance use harms.cannabis legalization banner

Public health experts across the country (including Northern Health’s medical health officers) support legalization and regulation of non-medical cannabis. While we recognize that there are risks attached to this, we believe there are ways to mitigate the risks and that the potential benefits outweigh the risks.

Some of the expected benefits to legalization through a public health approach include:

  • Decreased use of cannabis among youth.
  • Safer products with known potency.
  • Increased control over advertising and distribution.
  • Reduced stigma.
  • Reduced enforcement costs.

Some key points to know:

  • Cannabis is not a benign substance. The only way to be risk-free is not to use.
  • There are lower and higher risk ways to use cannabis.
  • Cannabis affects people differently, and individuals should consider their own situation before consuming.
  • Delay use as long as possible – youth are at increased risk to experience harm from cannabis.
  • You may be at increased risk if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have personal or family history of psychosis or substance use problems.
  • If you are using cannabis and are in a higher risk bracket, you should consult your local health care team to consider your options for reducing potential harm.
  • Regular habitual use can cause psychological and physical dependence.
  • Cannabis impairs your ability to drive a car. Visit Don’t Drive High for more info.
  • Cannabis can be smoked, vaporized, applied to the skin, or ingested in food or drinks. Different methods of consumption carry different risks just like different potency and different products.
    • Smoking cannabis can harm your lungs – like smoking tobacco.
    • Ingesting cannabis through food has delayed response – so be aware and don’t take more thinking it hasn’t had an effect.
    • Edibles and topical are not legal in Canada at this time.
  • There remains a lot of unknowns with cannabis use and its effects.

More resources:

  • Get Cannabis Clarity – information on what’s legal, health information, safe communities, safe kids, safe roads, legislation.
  • Canadian Centre on Substance Use – information on youth substance prevention, health effects, and reports.
  • Here to Help BC – mental health and substance use information, screening tools, and self-help resources.

Stacie Weich

About Stacie Weich

Stacie Weich is the Regional Mental Wellness and Prevention of Substance Harms Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. A passion for people and wellness has driven her to pursue a career in mental health and substance use. The first 10 years of her career were spent at a non-profit in Quesnel. Shen then moved to Prince George to join Northern Health in 2008. Stacie has fulfilled many roles under the mental health and substance use umbrella since then (EPI, ED, NYTC, COAST, AADP, YCOS). In her off time Stacie enjoys spending time with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs, and other family and friends in beautiful northern BC!

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Relating to the teen in your life

two women together hugging in a forest.The relationship you have with the teen(s) in your life is likely filled with moments of hope, joy, pride, challenge, frustration, fear, confusion, and everything in between. So how can parents and connected adults navigate these relationships and foster positive, mutually respectful relationships that can withstand a few bumps along the way?

There are so many changes in the adolescent period, including social, emotional, physical and cognitive. Social and emotional development is big at this time, and you can expect to see changes in the way teens interact and behave. Searching for identity, independence, responsibility, and adventure; placing more importance on friendships, peers, and dating; and communicating differently are all hallmarks of life during adolescence.

This time of change creates a fabulous opportunity for an adult to become a safe person to talk to, to create a safe environment, and to create a sense of freedom for exploration with the structure and support to do that safely. Building a solid foundation in the earlier years will certainly support this new challenge, but if this teen is new to your world, or your relationship has been less connected as you had hoped, don’t fear. With some energy, support, and information, you can become a meaningful person in the life of teens you care about.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Adult-teen relationships are NOT friendships, but they include components found in healthy friendships such as open communication, sharing, respect, and trust.
  • We want teens to talk to us and ask questions, so be ready and make time when they approach you. You want to be ready to talk when they are, we don’t want to miss the opportunity. Make sure you are completely present and listening.
  • Plan ahead and prepare yourself to speak knowledgeably about substances, mental and emotional health, sexuality, and identity. Leave the judgment and dramatic statements at the door, and have factual information to share in a context that makes sense for your teen.family on bicycles in a forest.
  • Encourage and support your teen’s involvement in a variety of activities, clubs, and groups that highlight their strengths, provide opportunity for building self-esteem and connections to youth with similar interests. Having a few different spaces and groups to connect to also provides social options for when challenges come up with one group of friends.
  • Be a part of your teen’s life. Get to know their friends, and welcome them into your home.
  • Remember to treat your teen like you want to be treated. And model the behaviour you want to see. If no phones or devices are allowed at the dinner table, put yours away too.

Creating a safe space for teens to ask questions without fear of rejection, judgment, or discipline is key. There are lots of resources out there to support your learning. Two websites to check for up to date information are:

While there is no guide or fool-proof plan to make these relationships successful, it is certainly worth the effort. Positive adult and teen relationships are linked with a host of positive outcomes, such as social emotional well-being, better academic achievements, and delayed or reduced substance use and risky behaviours. To learn more, visit Healthy Families BC.

 

This article was first published in the Winter 2018 issue of Healthier You magazine. Check out the full issue!  

Stacie Weich

About Stacie Weich

Stacie Weich is the Regional Mental Wellness and Prevention of Substance Harms Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. A passion for people and wellness has driven her to pursue a career in mental health and substance use. The first 10 years of her career were spent at a non-profit in Quesnel. Shen then moved to Prince George to join Northern Health in 2008. Stacie has fulfilled many roles under the mental health and substance use umbrella since then (EPI, ED, NYTC, COAST, AADP, YCOS). In her off time Stacie enjoys spending time with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs, and other family and friends in beautiful northern BC!

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Mental wellness inside and outside of mental illness

During Mental Illness Awareness Week, we want to explore the message of hope, resiliency, and understanding that there is wellness inside and outside of illness. Whether you live with a physical illness, a developmental illness, an injury, a mental illness or no labelled illness or disorder at all, your mental health can be appreciated and supported to flourish by recognizing the pieces that you can influence.

Living with a diagnosed mental illness or not, the reality is that every person on the planet will have moments, periods, or situations in which their mental health is or was, less than they would like it to be. Here are some examples of things to look out for – and things you can build skills to make changes to:

  • Trouble focusing attention.
  • Finding your thoughts stuck on one track – that just won’t stop running.
  • Struggling to tell what is real or not.
  • Feeling sad or vacant when good things are happening in your life.
  • Finding yourself isolating from friends or avoiding activities that usually bring you joy.
  • Sleep trouble – too much energy to get to sleep, or sleeping all night and not feeling rested.
  • Impulsively making decisions about money or activities that put you at risk.
  • Change in appetite or exercise patterns.
  • Feeling like you can’t make decisions when you usually make them with ease.

All of these things contribute to the overall experience of mental health, as do many other factors (jobs, finances, social networks, family breakdowns, life events, spirituality, etc.). The great thing about this list is that we can all learn to interrupt thinking patterns, practice better sleep hygiene, or adjust our schedules to promote balance in our days. We can invite new activities and people into our lives, we can change our environments and engage in our community, and we can seek help if we are struggling to make changes that can support growth. In doing these things, we can all see improvements to our mental wellness and in turn, satisfaction with our lives – dealing with challenges productively as they arise.

Have you checked up on your mental health?

Pieces of the puzzle, things to try:

  1. Have a look at your thinking patterns.
  2. Practice sleep hygiene.
  3. Recognize your strengths – try starting your day with writing out 3 things you are good at.
  4. Spend time with loved ones – build a social network.
  5. Volunteer.
  6. Exercise 30 minutes most days.
  7. Learn to manage and reduce stress.

Fast Facts:

  • Mental health, like physical health, has a range whether we live with a diagnosis or not.
  • We all have mental health and have days/periods where our thinking patterns, emotions, and behaviours are not at their best. We can learn skills to enhance our mental and emotional health.
  • Recovery is a journey, and there are many paths to get you there. Choose a route that makes sense for you.
  • Similar to physical health, mental health has elements we can influence to reach our wellness goals.

There is hope! Here are stories of recovery from around the world:

Looking to find some help? Head to your primary care home, local physician, walk in clinic, or check out:

Stacie Weich

About Stacie Weich

Stacie Weich is the Regional Mental Wellness and Prevention of Substance Harms Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. A passion for people and wellness has driven her to pursue a career in mental health and substance use. The first 10 years of her career were spent at a non-profit in Quesnel. Shen then moved to Prince George to join Northern Health in 2008. Stacie has fulfilled many roles under the mental health and substance use umbrella since then (EPI, ED, NYTC, COAST, AADP, YCOS). In her off time Stacie enjoys spending time with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs, and other family and friends in beautiful northern BC!

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It matters!

This blog was co-authored by Cindy Gjerde (Regional Nursing Lead Tobacco Reduction).

This summer, we want to know what wellness means to you! Share a  photo, story, drawing, or video explaining what wellness means to you for a chance to win a grand prize! To inspire you, we’ve featured regular wellness content on the Northern Health Matters blog all summer long!


Teens. How do we keep them safe, happy, engaged, and AWAY from tobacco, cannabis, alcohol and other drugs?  As a woman who has spent her career working in mental health and substance use services, and as a parent to two adorable little girls, I ask myself this question daily. While there is no script I can give you, there are some key considerations to tuck into your parenting/coaching/teaching playbook.

  • Self-esteem matters: Teens need to feel empowered, confident, and like they contribute and are important.
  • Resiliency matters: Showing, supporting, and guiding teens through tough times teaches them that tough times have an end point, and they have power in how they deal with the tough stuff.
  • Connectedness matters: Encourage teens to be and stay connected to parents, friends, neighbours, teachers, coaches, leaders, grandparents.
  • Safe spaces matter: Safe places are more than ones that are physically safe (although that’s part of it). Mental and emotional health promoting spaces are warm, welcoming of diversity, free of discrimination and violence, places that are substance-free, and encourage young people to be themselves.

    teens boxing

    Teens need safe places that are warm, welcoming of diversity, free of discrimination and violence, substance-free, and that encourage them to be themselves.

Prevent, delay and reduce use

We know that the longer we prevent teens from using substances, the better armed they are in preventing the disease of addiction. We also know that substance use during adolescence can interfere with important developmental changes. So what can we do to prevent them from using in the first place?

  • Talk to them about tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs.
  • Respond positively to your child’s/teen’s interests.
  • Involve your teen in activities and chores that grow their abilities.
  • Encourage your teen to get a part-time job or volunteer.
  • Support them during their tough times – use comforting language, and affirming statements.
  • Model responsible substance use (if substances are part of your life).
  • Help them learn to make and keep friends.
  • Support them to try new things and keep active.

Resources to educate yourself and your teens:

Things to be on the lookout for:

  • Change in mood or behaviour
  • Change in friends
  • Isolating themselves
  • Dropping grades or loss of interest
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Signs of substance use: smell of tobacco, cannabis, alcohol
  • Skipping school or work
  • Need for money
  • Finding drug paraphernalia in the home

Where to get help:

Visit your family physician or health care provider for a referral/recommendation to local resources such as:

Stacie Weich

About Stacie Weich

Stacie Weich is the Regional Mental Wellness and Prevention of Substance Harms Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. A passion for people and wellness has driven her to pursue a career in mental health and substance use. The first 10 years of her career were spent at a non-profit in Quesnel. Shen then moved to Prince George to join Northern Health in 2008. Stacie has fulfilled many roles under the mental health and substance use umbrella since then (EPI, ED, NYTC, COAST, AADP, YCOS). In her off time Stacie enjoys spending time with her husband, two daughters, and two dogs, and other family and friends in beautiful northern BC!

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