Healthy Living in the North

Talking to our kids: having a conversation does more than you know

(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.)

A man and child throwing rocks into a lake.Lately I’ve been hearing from my colleagues that they don’t know how to talk to their children about mental health issues or suicide in our community. I can relate to their struggle because, although I trained as a clinical counsellor and facilitate mental health workshops, everything I know seems to go out the window when it comes to my own kids and their struggles (and I end up doing the very things I advise against).

One thing I am sure of though, is that there is great value and importance in talking to our kids about the truth of the world. Our boys are 6 and 12 now and my husband and I have talked to them since they were toddlers about all manner of topics that affect them and their community. We have discussed residential school and colonial history, racism in our Northern community, the fentanyl crisis, youth suicide, domestic violence, LGBTQ2 language, social media dangers – the list is endless. I believe that there is a way to talk to kids about challenging topics, in an age appropriate way – and that we should! It’s important to prepare yourself for the emotional impact of discussing a topic that you have a lot of feelings about, for example, self-harm or suicide.

You may have different levels of knowledge about all of these topics, as we do, but I think even if you’re starting from the beginning, you can do so alongside your child (coming from a place of not knowing together is okay!). Find out one or two facts on an issue, and give them some language, so that they can ask questions. Let them know that you’ll share what you know; and if you don’t… you’ll find out.

There may be opportunities in your community that you haven’t considered attending that can spark conversation or ideas with your family about important topics, which may help them shape their opinions on community issues. We’ve taken our children to anti-violence rallies, anti-racism rallies, and Aboriginal rights marches. As always, I’ll run into someone I know there who says, “I should’ve brought my kids!” Even a young child will undoubtedly learn something by attending community events.

For example, domestic violence is something we want our boys to learn about as it’s a reality in our community. Now they have joined the Moosehide Campaign – a campaign to end violence against Aboriginal women and children. If they consider where they stand on issues like this now, and grow up surrounded by people who will stand by these values, we’re hopeful they will hold onto these values as youth and adults.

Kids notice what is going on around them and will ask questions. They may not need to know every detail of difficult topics, like suicides or violence, but you can discuss some of the reasons behind people’s actions, for example, why people take their lives. If we open the door to these conversations, and your children believe you have something to offer and can support them, they are more likely to speak up if they or their friends are going through difficult times.

If you’re not sure where to start, just listen. Your children will give you the opportunity needed to share your ideas and knowledge about the world. Ask them what they know about these things, and share what you are willing to share, in a way that doesn’t frighten them, but gives them a starting point to frame the information.

About Erin Anderlini

Erin Anderlini is the Health Director with the Prince George Native Friendship Centre. The Prince George Native Friendship Centre is a non-profit, non-sectarian organization dedicated to servicing the needs of Aboriginal people residing in the urban area and improving the quality of life in the community as a whole.

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Help is here: Compass and Kelty for all things youth mental wellness

Jointly written by Michelle Horn, Program Manager, Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre and Julie Budkowski, Project Manager, Compass

(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.)

Promotional postcard for Compass.Did you know that in any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental health challenge? And that approximately 75% of mental health challenges begin before the age of 24? Chances are, someone in your life has or will be impacted by mental illness. One of the most important things to know is that mental illnesses are common and treatable; getting connected to appropriate mental health services and supports are a key first step.

Free provincial mental health services

No matter where you live in the province, BC Children’s Hospital has provincial services to make sure your family gets connected to the support you need, as close to your community as possible. These services are free of charge, and available to families, youth, and health professionals.

Let’s highlight two of these great support services: the Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre and Compass.

Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre logo.Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre – Support for children, youth and families

The BC Children’s Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre provides mental health and substance use information, resources, help with mental health system navigation, and peer support to children, youth, and their families from across BC.

It can be difficult to know who to talk to or where to get help when you’re worried about a child in your life. The non-judgmental and compassionate staff at the Centre includes parent and youth peer support staff who have personal experience, either themselves or in their families, with mental health challenges. They are here to listen, support, encourage, and provide resources and options for support and treatment in your community. Whether its information, resources, or a listening ear you’re looking for, the Kelty Centre is here for your family.

You can reach the BC Children’s Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre by calling the toll-free number 1-800-665-1822, emailing us at keltycentre@cw.bc.ca, or visiting the Kelty Mental Health Health website.

“Thank you very much for taking the time to listen, your kindness, and getting back to me so promptly with the support and information. This is appreciated.” – Feedback from a parent who contacted the Kelty Centre

Compass – A provincial resource for community care providers

Compass is a new BC Children’s Hospital service for community care providers who are supporting children and youth (up to age 25) with mental health and substance use concerns across the province.  Compass connects community care providers to the information, advice and resources they need to provide appropriate and timely care to children and youth close to home.

The service helps to improve outcomes for children, youth, and their families across BC by providing specialist consultation to the caregivers that are supporting them in their community. When a community care provider calls for a consultation, they receive access to a multi-disciplinary team who can help with diagnostic clarification, medication recommendations, treatment planning, consultation around cognitive behavioural therapy, dialectical behaviour therapy, substance counselling, behavioral issues, family issues, trauma treatment, etc., and general support when things aren’t going well.

Community care providers such as primary care providers, substance use clinicians, child and youth mental health clinicians, specialist physicians, and pediatricians can contact Compass Monday through Friday, 9-5, by calling 1-855-702-7272.

For more information, visit the CompassBC.ca or email compass@cw.bc.ca.

About Michelle Horn

Michelle Horn is a Program Manager with The BC's Children's Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre. The BC Children's Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre provides mental health and substance use information, resources, help with mental health system navigation and peer support to children, youth and their families from across BC.

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Libraries: a place for all

(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.)

A selection of books with LGBTQ2 related themes.When youth use public libraries, they are often searching for fictional narratives with lived experiences similar to their own, or, in some instances, health information specific to their needs and lifestyles. But, health information is not all that LGBTQ2 youth search for when visiting libraries.

Young Adult novels focused on LGBTQ2 characters and narratives are currently some of the most popular titles among all youth. Novels and feature films such Becky Albertalli’s Simon versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda are dominating bestsellers lists this year. Narratives featuring relatable LBGTQ2 characters, including storylines around how they make it through difficult times, can help the reader normalize their sense of self-identity. In a research study from the University of Northern British Columbia, it was found that LGTBQ2 youth, when searching for [health] information, sought not only validity in information, but also a feeling of safety when searching and accessing this highly sensitive information in their lives.[1]

Public libraries are welcoming spaces for LGBTQ2 youth. Youth programs are created without sexual orientation or personal identity in mind. Instead, the focus is on engaging, educating and making sure that youth are having fun, meeting others their own age, and interacting in a friendly and safe environment.

A sign welcoming all cultures, beliefs, orientations, genders, people.Did you know that LGBTQ2 youth are at a higher risk for suffering from issues related to mental health than others their age? LGBTQ2 youth face greater stigmatization and societal pressure to conform to perceived heteronormative expectations and, in turn, are more likely to internalize their struggles, putting their mental health at risk.

This stigmatization is generated by a variety of factors, including:

  • Popular culture perpetuating heterosexual norms – e.g. boys and girls dating, getting married, etc. – and sensationalizing non-heterosexual experiences.
  • Lack of mental health and general health information directly oriented toward LGBTQ2 members in communities.
  • Fear of coming out and concern about not being accepted by friends, family, and social groups.

By providing inclusive spaces, like the public library, that are accepting of everyone, regardless of their personal identity or sexual orientation, we can support their mental and physical safety.

Safe and inclusive spaces prevent stigma, by providing youth with a neutral ground where they can be themselves. These spaces can exist anywhere, whether it’s a school classroom, workplace, or the family household. Creating these spaces is achievable as long as the adults and mentors in the lives of these youth take the time to advocate for their basic needs.

These principles are applicable in any environment. Public libraries are a great example of how these values can be applied to a diverse and complex environment, as the mandate of many public libraries is to meet the basic needs of each and every patron.

Encouraging LGBTQ2 youth to embrace safe and inclusive spaces all around them ensures they have areas of solitude where acceptance of all identities is guaranteed, and where they can be themselves.

Contact your local libraries and see what resources and information is available for LGBTQ2 youth; you may be surprised what you’ll find!

Here’s how you can help!

When creating inclusive spaces, it’s important to recognize some general principles that help establish the space as welcoming for LGTBQ2 youth, including:

  • Using inclusive language and proper gender pronouns (e.g. they/their rather than he/she)
  • Encouraging open and accepting attitudes
  • Providing basic education & understanding of various gender identities and sexual orientations
  • Providing youth with opportunities to explore the lived experiences of others like them via books, television, web, or guest speakers

 

[1] Hawkins, Blake. 2017. Does Quality Matter? Health Information Behaviors of LGBTQ Youth in Prince George, Canada. Presented at 80th Annual Meeting of the Association for Information Science & Technology, Washington, DC. Oct. 27-Nov. 1, 2017.

About Christopher Knapp

Christopher Knapp is the Teen Librarian at the Prince George Public Library.

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Promoting a positive body image for students

Two young girls cooking food.

In honour of the recent Provincial Eating Disorders Week, registered dietitian Rilla Reardon shared some great tips for promoting positive body image in youth. Building a positive body image helps youth thrive physically, emotionally, and socially, and can protect against the development of disordered eating. Unfortunately, feeling good about one’s body is not always easy in today’s society. The BC Adolescent Health Report, a survey of youth ages 12-19 across the province paints a distressing picture. From the 30,000 students who were surveyed, they found that:

  • 36% of females and 28% of males are unhappy with their bodies.
  • 35% of females and 19% of males have engaged in risky dieting behaviour in the past year.  
  • Disordered eating behaviours are more common among older and larger-bodied students.

Since youth spend a large portion of their time in school, it makes sense that our efforts extend beyond home to include the school environment. Read on to find out what steps schools can take to promote a positive body image and prevent disordered eating among youth.

Focus on health, not weight

Research shows that talking about weight (yours or others) or dieting is harmful for children of all ages. Help children value themselves for who they are and what their bodies can DO. We all have different strengths that deserve to be celebrated. 

Say no to weight-based bullying

Speak up against weight-based bullying and include weight discrimination in your school’s anti-bullying policy. Teach children that teasing someone about their body is never okay and that all bodies deserve to be treated with respect.

Talk to children about their changing bodies

Health class is a great opportunity to let children know that weight gain is a normal part of growing up. Puberty is going to comes at different rates and times for everyone.  Knowing about these changes before they occur can help children feel more at ease, and prevent risky behaviours.        

Avoid the collection of student height, weight, and/or BMI

There are many factors that influence weight, and most are outside of an individual’s control. BMI is not a good measure of health, especially for children, and its collection has been shown to cause harm. Instead, schools can focus on celebrating body diversity and creating environments that make the healthy choice the easy choice for all students.

“Do no harm” with nutrition education

Provide students with hands-on experiences with growing, choosing, and preparing foods, rather than food rules. This type of information (e.g. calorie counting, “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” foods) can promote black-and-white thinking, and does not encourage a positive relationship with food. For curriculum recommendations check out the Northern Health Healthy Eating at Schools page.

Do not provide specific information about eating disorders

Research shows that talking about eating disorders is not effective for prevention, and can backfire. “She ate only X calories a day” or “He took as many as X laxatives at a time” can turn a well-intentioned story into ‘how-to’ instructions for someone to follow. A better approach is talking about body image and promoting media literacy.

Teach youth to be media savvy

Encourage students to be critical of how bodies are portrayed in the media. Getting students to ask, “Who stands to benefit from these messages?” is called media literacy, and can help children reject unrealistic body ideals. In addition, teaching youth to spot nutrition fads, and where to find reliable sources of health information (e.g. Health Services at HealthLink BC), goes a lot further than simply providing information. To get started, check out this list of teaching tools, videos, and lesson plans from Jesse’s Legacy and Vancouver Coastal Health.

Sign up for a free teacher workshop

Consider attending a “Healthy Attitudes, Healthy Bodies, Healthy Schools” workshop designed to help educators become more confident promoting positive body image in the classroom. Workshops are free and available in your local community or virtually. Call 1-800-242-6455 or email nutrition@bcdairy.ca to book a workshop.

We’d love to hear from you. How does your school promote a positive body image for students?

Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Emilia started her career with Northern Health as a dietetic intern in 2013. Since then, she has worked in a variety of roles as a Registered Dietitian with the population health team. In her current role, she supports schools across the north in their efforts to promote healthy eating. Emilia is passionate about food’s role in bringing people and communities together, and all the ways it can support physical, mental, and social health. Her overall philosophy on healthy eating can be summarized by this Ellyn Satter quote: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” In her spare time, she loves exploring the beautiful northern outdoors by foot, skis, bike, or canoe!

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Filling the empty vessel of potential in today’s youth

(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.)

“I dunno, hangin’ out.”

I hear this a lot when I ask youth what they do for fun. It’s a regular part of my mental health assessment at the Foundry Youth Wellness Centre in Prince George. It’s a huge red flag for me. Conversely, when I hear things like, “I’m on the volleyball team,” “I go to youth group,” or “I play guitar,” I note these as protective factors that support positive health outcomes in youth.

Silhouettes of people jumping against a sunny sky.

The experience of being a teenager

The teenage years are a time of massive inner change and growth and the brain is beginning to lay down some serious tracks of development in areas that will define the rest of a youth’s adult life. It’s a time of self-discovery and identity formation; when youth begin to question what kind of a person they want to be, who they identify with, and what they stand for. It’s also a time when their brain is craving rewards in brain chemistry on a level that will never be surpassed in any other stage of life. And it’s a time when one feels invincible and invulnerable to accidents or physical pain!

At this stage, we tend to see high risk, adrenaline-producing behaviors, with apparent lack of regard for the dangers. The highs and lows of life are intense, and all-consuming. Most of us can relate to the music we listened to as teens as being the most impactful and moving music of our entire life. We feel the music more intensely then, than any other time in our life!

Playing an instrument, fine tuning a slap shot, or learning a new language are all examples of things that our youth are working in earnest to develop and master. They’re things that require focus, patience, vulnerability, and creativity. They help enhance one’s sense of self, provide a platform to stand on, and complete the sentence, “I am…” They provide places to both input passion and output frustration.

In the absence of more positive activities to fill the vessels of potential, youth wander into other things – or other things will find them. While harmless in many youth’s lives, social media and gaming can become obsessed over. Drugs are often first introduced at this stage of life. Gangs become more prevalent too, preying on young people who lack a sense of community or belonging, or a strong sense of self.

However, we know that the pathways youth take can veer in many different directions, and everyone, at any time is capable of positive change. We are also keenly aware that as the brain develops, it becomes familiar with what it experiences, and more deeply tied to both the positive and negative familiarities. It consumes what it is fed.  

Above all, parents want the best for their children, and for them to grow into healthy, happy, functional adults. See the side box for ways you can help make the transition from adolescence to adulthood as positive as it can be.

Here are some ways to help guide our children through adolescence into adulthood:

  • Get active! Try to involve your child in the activities that interest you, or that they show an interest in. The earlier the better, but it’s never too late to try something new.
  • Turn off the screens. If there is a screen to stare at, it becomes very hard to gather the motivation to get outside, or get involved in something active. Set up the house so that it is more fun to be out of it than in it.
  • Talk about what used to be thought of as taboo topics such as mental health, drugs, and alcohol openly. Be prepared to listen and hear the perspectives of children and youth without closing the door to conversation with advice or judgment. Portray the message that it is safe to discuss difficult things, and give youth time to come around. When they are ready, if they feel safe, they will talk.
  • Cheer them on. Though they don’t admit it, youth want to make their parents proud. Watch their games/recitals, bring the whole family, or become a coach/trainer/mentor.
  • If you know of a young person aged 12-24 who is struggling with mental health concerns, consider The Foundry as a resource.
Josh Van der meer

About Josh Van der meer

Josh is a Mental Health and Addictions Clinician who splits his time between the Early Psychosis Intervention Team and the Foundry Youth Access Clinic. He primarily works with youth and young adults. In his spare time, Josh likes to be somewhere outside with his wife, daughter and dog. Josh likes to speed skate in the winter, and play ultimate Frisbee and mountain bike in the summer.

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More than just body parts: connecting the dots between mental & sexual health

(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.)

I recently read a statement that resonated deeply with me. In an article called Sex Ed, Broken Hearts and Mental Health, written for Sexual and Reproductive Health Week (2018), the first sentence read: “Sexual health is not just about our body parts. The youth I work with understand this inherently.”

This is so true. There is much more to our sexual heath than just our body parts, but often when we think about sexual health, the first things that come to mind are sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and contraception – if only it were so simple.

We don’t often think about the important connection between mental health and sexual health in our everyday lives. Youth are particularly affected by this vast list of connection points: puberty, crushes, relationships, first loves, broken hearts, coping, anxiety, gender identity, gender expression, value clarification, body image, consent, stigma, STIs, birth control, self-discovery… the list itself is overwhelming!

Young people have a lot of things happening at once; I saw this first hand while working in a youth wellness clinic at a local high school. Many students came looking for sexual health services and almost all of them had questions or concerns that related in some way to mental health. It’s nearly impossible to talk about sexual health without discussing mental health.

The green and blue sex sense logo.

Reducing stigma

It’s important to acknowldege that sexual and mental health are two sensitive health topics that people often find difficult to talk about. Because of a lack of awareness and misunderstanding, these topics are often surrounded by stigma – even with ongoing public education efforts to address perceptions.

Stigma can lead to negative mental health outcomes, feelings of shame, isolation, and negative self-image. These feelings can act as barriers that prevent people from accessing the care and support they need. How scary for a young person to be experiencing so much and not be able to talk about it openly and honestly without fear of judgment!

 So, how can we help reduce stigma and support positive sexual and mental health?”

Being “sexually healthy” requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence.

Together, we can reduce stigma and help youth make informed and responsible decisions about their sexual and mental health. We can do this by building resiliency, increasing confidence, providing education, listening, and encouraging social connectedness.

Youth are entitled to positive and affirming health care that routinely and proactively meets the needs of their mental and sexual health. A big step towards achieving this is providing open safe spaces to talk about both. As parents and caregivers, we can help create this environment by becoming “askable adults.”

Talking matters: Be an askable adult

An askable adult is an approachable, non-judgmental source of reliable information for children and youth. This is a person that is easy to talk to, listens, respects a person’s right to privacy, and respects the right for a child or teen to feel the way they do. As children enter their teen years they start to turn to their friends for answers and information – often unreliable or inaccurate sources. Being as askable adult will help them know they can come to you whenever they have questions or curiosities.

While it may not seem like it at times, teens do care about what we say and do. Here are some tips to help make open, honest, give-and-take conversations about sexuality and mental health a normal part of family life:

  • Reflect on your upbringing. By thinking about the quality and nature of your experiences growing up, you may discover it is easier to respond to questions and find opportunities to start conversations about sexual and mental health.
  • Talk about sexual and mental health at an early age. And remember: it’s never too late to start.
  • Use correct vocabulary. By doing this, you will normalize the conversation and enhance the clarity of the discussion.
  • Watch for teachable moments. Talk about and help them understand issues as they come up in TV shows, movies, ads, music, social media, the community, and your (and their) social circle.
  • Provide resources. Provide information to youth about sexual health services and support so that they know where to go if they need help. Have resources like books in your home where your teen can get the right information.
  • Remember, you don’t have to know it all. Be an active learner yourself. Your teen will teach you just as much as you teach them. Look to your community for resources and information sources.
  • Encourage your teen to talk about their thoughts and ideas. An open exchange of ideas can help clarify the values you each hold.
  • When your teen asks you a question, do your best to answer it at the time. If you don’t know the answer, suggest that you find out together, or tell them you’ll find out and get back to them. Don’t put it off, as they might think that it’s not an okay topic, or not important enough to talk about.
  • Demonstrate responsible, health conscious decisions and behaviour. Show what healthy relationships and lifestyle choices look like by living them yourself.
  • Play the what-if game. Ask situational questions like, “What if you/your partner/your friend got pregnant?” or “What if your friends asked you to do something you weren’t comfortable with?” Do your best not to judge their responses, but do talk about the possible consequences of their choices and actions.
  • Stay away from scare tactics. Instead, encourage comfort and openness about sexuality; you want your children to experience sex as a positive, joyous part of their adult lives. Always be honest and open.
  • Speak to them as a mature person. Use correct terms to show that you respect their age and knowledge. Respect their views and feelings.
  • Recognize that you can’t control all of your teen’s actions. Assure your teen that there may be times you don’t approve of their actions but you’ll always support them and will always love them unconditionally.
  • Listen and stay calm. It’s important to deliver the message that they can talk to you when they need to and that you won’t get mad.
  • Repeat often and have fun! Repeating your information and messages serves several purposes. It helps to create normalcy around the subjects of sexuality and self-care. It also opens the door for clarification and more questions and reinforces your commitment to supporting and encouraging your child.

We know mental and sexual health are integral to overall health and well-being. We also know that health practices established in adolescence impact health into adulthood. Together, as parents and health care providers, we can influence the long-term health of our youth by being approachable, open, askable adults, and arming our children with the tools and knowledge they need to make informed and responsible decisions as they mature.

Shellie O'Brien

About Shellie O'Brien

Shellie grew up in rural Newfoundland and moved to B.C. in 2003. After graduating from the nursing program at Thompson Rivers University in 2007 she moved to Prince George to start her career. She has a passion for population and public health and is the Regional Lead for Sexual and Reproductive Health. After falling in love with the north she purchased a rural property and began to build her hobby farm and family. She enjoys the outdoors, animals, recreational dogsledding, reading, and healthy living. When not at work, she can be found happily doing something outside on her farm with her family.

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Being a teen can be tough! Getting active can help

(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.)

A dog with a backpack behind people snowshoeing.

When I was a teenager, my family used to tease me, lovingly, about riding a roller coaster of emotions. One minute I was flying high, giddy and unstoppable, the next minute I would be physically drooping, bored, and waiting for something or someone to pick me back up again. Everything that happened to and around me was a big deal, and I was deeply affected, positively or negatively.

Life as a teenager was not easy, and that was before smartphones and social media were a thing. Today’s teens deal with all of the same life changes and stressors people my age dealt with, and then some. There seems to be significantly more pressure to perform, in school, sports, socially… not only in person, but also virtually. While the pressure used to ease when we got home at the end of the day, there is no reprieve today; a person’s online presence never rests.

It’s no wonder anxiety, depression, and other related mental health concerns are so frequently mentioned while referring to today’s youth population.

Additionally, because today’s social life is quite often literally located at arms’ length (on our handheld devices), motivation to get out and engage face-to-face is low, which leads to increasingly sedentary (inactive) lifestyles.

The positive link between physical activity and improved mental health is well documented, but did you know that high rates of sedentary time have been linked to a greater risk of developing depression in adolescence? If we weren’t already concerned about rising rates of sedentary behaviour and physical inactivity, we now should be.

Here are a few ways making physical activity a priority can help improve youth mental wellness:

  1. Physical activity is a healthy coping mechanism. It can help clear the mind and decrease anxiety levels.
  2. Physical activity provides a “time out” from online pressures. Chances are, whether we’re doing something active solo or with others, we’re not bothering to check our phones for a while. Having a healthy distraction can help put whatever is happening online into perspective.
  3. Getting involved in an activity or sport with others helps build social connections, which are vital to our emotional well-being.
  4. Being physically active helps boost self-esteem – a key indicator of mental health! It also helps us build resilience to fight daily stressors.
  5. One word: endorphins! When we raise our heart rates, our bodies produce endorphins, or “feel-good” chemicals, giving us an immediate mental boost.

The physical and mental health benefits of being active can be realized in a variety of ways, which is why it’s important that youth are exposed to as many different forms of physical activity as possible to assist in finding something exciting and enjoyable. You don’t have to be a superstar athlete, or a “gym rat,” and there is no single “must do” physical activity to help you reach your full potential. Full potential is individual, and reached when you find that thing (or things) that makes you tick. Once you discover it, whether it’s running, basketball, hiking, foraging, snowshoeing, etc., you’ll notice how good you feel whenever you do it, you’ll want to keep on doing it, and you’ll continue to reap the benefits from it, in every aspect of your life.  

For more information on the links between physical activity and mental health:

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.

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Catching up with Myles Mattila

“I am not a mental health professional by any means, I’m just a hockey player.”

Myles Mattila in his hockey uniform.

Myles Mattila may not have the credentials, but he’s got the passion – enough of it to be a heck of a mental health advocate. Founder of MindRight and a former Northern Health Community Health Star (see our original story on him here!), Myles now lives in Kelowna BC, playing with the Kelowna Chiefs of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League. Although hockey plays a huge part in his life, so does mental health awareness. With Bell Let’s Talk Day coming up, it was the perfect time to catch up with Myles and see what’s changed in the past couple years.

Remind us, what is MindRight?

MindRight is a place where athletes who are experiencing any range of mental health challenges can visit and find support. Whether it’s professional resources for coaches or players, peer to peer support, or just having someone to talk to, MindRight can help.

What’s coming up? Anything exciting?

We’re planning for a MindRight app, which is great because it provides some more accessibility for youth athletes, and really can open up the door to other leagues. I think that’s the overall goal, to take MindRight and spread it into bigger leagues so more players have access to it.

What role do you think coaches, team managers, and sport organizers can play in mental health promotion/ prevention?

I think they play a huge part. If you watch my video on how MindRight sort of began, I talk about my teammate who was going through some ups and downs. I saw him acting differently, and I was worried.

“His smile was gone, but he kept saying, “’I’m fine.’”

So, I brought it to my coach’s attention, someone I looked up to at the age of 13, and thought had all the answers. Unfortunately, coaches don’t always know the best procedure, and my coach actually took hockey away from him. That was devastating.

Hopefully MindRight can be used by both coaches and players so they can find resources that help. I think coaches and organizations should let players know it’s ok to speak up, or even better, encourage mental health awareness. It can be as formal as having a speaker come in and present, or as easy as using green tape on your stick and gear to promote Mental Health Awareness Week.

In your experience do coaches, or peers, know how to support someone that does speak out for help?

Before, not as much, but now, yes, I think so. Older coaches can sometimes have different mindsets, probably because mental health wasn’t a well-known topic to them in their youth. They have that “old time hockey” mentality.

It’s kind of hard to ignore the issue now because it’s being recognized so often. Schools champion it, pro athletes speak to it. One in five people are affected in some way by mental health. Awareness and learning is key to changing how we act and fight the stigma attached to it. Coaches and organizations can change – my past coach changed once he heard my story!

Many sports organizations/clubs have zero tolerance substance use policies meaning someone can be kicked out or excluded from positive peer groups and social connections. Do you think there is a better way to handle substance use?

It’s tricky. In my opinion, I don’t think booting players from a team or organization resolves the problem, but I can also recognize the risk of substances within a team atmosphere. A person’s mental health has to be considered, but the team has to be protected as well.

I think best way to handle that sort of situation is to really dive into the team, figure out what’s going on and create a plan. If you can find out what’s wrong, and if that person is willing to be helped and looking for change, they should be given that opportunity.

“At the end of the day, a team is like a family. You don’t want to see your family go through hard times.”

Recognizing everyone has mental health, and that it is not a fixed state, how can sport contribute and foster to positive mental health in youth?

Sports provide an incredible atmosphere for growth. If you break it down, you’ve got a common goal, a team connection and lots of interaction – it’s a really underrated and cool opportunity to create a positive mental health support network.

Why is it so important for youth to talk about their feelings and experiences?

Honestly, it’s simple. You can’t get help without speaking to the right people. I think there have been cases where youth athletes reach out to the wrong people, and get shamed for talking about mental health. It makes them shut down and stop looking for help.

If you reach out to the right people who know how to respond and help correctly, people at places like Foundry, you can get the real facts you need and go from there.

What do you believe is the best way to educate youth on mental health and substance use?   

I’ve always thought that presentations play a big part in educating, but in my experience, the peer to peer network is the best, which is why sports and teams are so perfect for educating. If someone within a team atmosphere can be an ambassador, the guys listen.

I’ve always admired Kevin Bieksa and his advocacy for his friend and teammate who passed away, Rick Rypien. When young athletes see pros speaking about themselves and teammates, it’s relatable. We’re all playing the same game, so it’s not too hard to imagine that some of us may be going through the same problems.

Make sure to check out MindRight today. We wish Myles all the best moving forward with this hockey career and his mental health advocacy!

And don’t forget to nominate your Community Health Star now!

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The kitchen at Parkside Secondary School: More than a place to cook

(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.)

Staff at Parkside Secondary School in Terrace.
L-R: Terri Finlayson (teacher), Jane Aubuckle (principal), David Griffin (teacher), and Laurie Mutschke (meal coordinator).

“However the spirit moves you.”

That’s the cooking advice you will often hear Laurie Mutschke, School Meal Coordinator, share with her students at Parkside Secondary School in Terrace. Among her other roles, she runs the school’s daily hot lunch program that serves meals made from scratch.

The school receives donations from the local Food Share program, Terrace Church’s Food Bank, Donna’s Kitchen and Catering, and Breakfast Club of Canada, along with food from the local community garden where the students help out. Nothing goes to waste – even the food scraps get put into the aptly named “Critter Bin.” The students also get credit for helping Laurie in the kitchen. When fresh produce shows up at the school, they often decide what to make for lunch.                        

I met with Laurie and Terri Finlayson, Foods, Science and Life Skills teacher, to learn more about the program. They recently celebrated the grand opening of their brand-new kitchen, and I was happy to get a tour of the beautiful facility. As we chatted, Laurie and Terri shared many stories. I quickly learned why their school’s kitchen is so much more than just a place to cook.  

Student and teacher cooking together.
L-R: Dakota Gull (student) and David Griffin (teacher).

Tell me more about the staff and students at your school!

Laurie: “[Parkside] is considered an alternate school… there is a lot of flexibility in terms of individual education plans. So, maybe today English isn’t something you want to do, maybe you can work in the kitchen. I think, along with the students being a unique group, we really do have a different blend of teachers with different passions.”

How did you start getting the students involved with cooking?

“Sometime they just come to you and say, “Can I help?” Sometimes I don’t even need the help, but I pull them in because I see that they need to come in. I will go to the teachers, and ask, “Can I have her help? She’s lost today, and she needs something.”

How has cooking helped you build connections with the students?

Terri: “As you’re busy cooking, you can have those conversations. If you’re sitting down, one-on-one, looking at them in the face, [students] will often shut down. But if you’re doing something else and you just casually start talking, you get into these topics that you normally never do.

And because [Laurie] doesn’t have that designated teacher role, a lot of kids feel comfortable talking to [her]. They come into the kitchen and now you’ve built that relationship. It’s a special thing, and you have to be a certain way as a person, not just a cook. You’re a counsellor, you’re a cook, and you’re also dealing with hygiene and teaching life skills.”

What other positive impacts has the cooking program had on students’ mental wellness?

Laurie: “They can feel good about themselves. They have a special job that makes them feel so important. On the lunch line someone says, ‘This is great, Laurie!’, and I say, ‘Don’t thank me – So and So made that!’ Just the connection you get over food, and their sense of their accomplishment.

Sometimes being in the kitchen becomes the reward. Not the eating of the food, but the preparing. We have a young lady who is on a very limited part-time schedule, but on certain days she does the baking… While they wait for whatever to be baked, [she] and her sister work on math in the kitchen. That then becomes her safe spot.”

What other activities are the students involved in?

Terri: “We take the students fishing and hiking, they gather the blueberries from up in Shames [Mountain]. We have an equestrian riding program. One of the teachers does crafts and sewing. I think that’s all part of the health piece too, because it helps them be healthy; not just eating, but in every way. A lot of them find that when they deal with their anxiety,they feel so much better.”

Laurie: “There is something here for everyone. Maybe you’re the kid that wants to go for a hike, or maybe you’re the kid that wants to cook in the kitchen. They do get excited because it’s taking the classroom outside, it’s not just sitting at a desk.”

People often say that the kitchen is the heart of the home. The staff and students at Parkside Secondary could not agree more! Just like at home, their kitchen wears many hats: it’s a place to build relationships, to learn new skills, to enjoy good food with friends, and most importantly, it’s a place to feel safe and cared for. 

Interested in starting a youth cooking program? Contact a Northern Health Population Health Dietitian for suggestions and resources at 250-631-4265 or PopHthNutrition@NorthernHealth.ca. Or visit the Northern Health Healthy Eating at School webpage.

Emilia Moulechkova

About Emilia Moulechkova

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Emilia started her career with Northern Health as a dietetic intern in 2013. Since then, she has worked in a variety of roles as a Registered Dietitian with the population health team. In her current role, she supports schools across the north in their efforts to promote healthy eating. Emilia is passionate about food’s role in bringing people and communities together, and all the ways it can support physical, mental, and social health. Her overall philosophy on healthy eating can be summarized by this Ellyn Satter quote: “When the joy goes out of eating, nutrition suffers.” In her spare time, she loves exploring the beautiful northern outdoors by foot, skis, bike, or canoe!

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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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