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

A donated towel warms a merlin chick. Photo supplied
MARS Moment: 2021 shaping up to be a record-setting year for animal rescues

Submitted by Jane Sproull Thomson Special to Black Press With the pandemic,… Continue reading

A 41-person air task force, including 12 members from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron at 19 Wing Comox, seized more than $3 million CND worth of cocaine as part of Op Caribbe. Photo by Canadian Armed Forces Operations/Facebook
19 Wing Comox crew involved in three-tonne cocaine seizure worth more than $293 million

12 members from 407 Long Range Patrol Squadron involved in Op Caribbe

File photo of Gord Johns during World Oceans Day.
Courtenay-Alberni MP outlines priorities for federal budget

Universal pharmacare, affordable housing and Pacific wild salmon are some of the… Continue reading

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 in Gold River area

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

Volunteers sort through bottles and cans during Saturday's fundraiser for hospice. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Comox Valley hospice holds drive-through bottle drive

Bike team is fundraising for the annual Cycle of Life tour on Vancouver Island

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

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

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

NIC’s new president Lisa Domae assumed the role April 12. Domae has worked at NIC since 2000, most recently as executive vp academic and chief operating officer. Photo supplied
New North Island College president launches draft strategic plan

North Island College’s new president, Lisa Domae, kicked off her first official… Continue reading

Killer whales surface near Sebastion Beach in Lantzville on Sunday, April 11. (Photos courtesy Ella Smiley)
Chainsaw and friends near the beach thrill orca watchers in Lantzville

Jagged-finned orca named Chainsaw and 17 others spent hours off Sebastion Beach this weekend

Nootka Sound RCMP and DFO Conservation and Protection Officers seized this 30 foot vessel, fishing gear and equipment as well as Chinook salmon, salmon roe, rock fish and ling cod after an investigation on Sept. 11. A judge in Campbell River on February hit the owner and his accomplices with significant fines, a ban on holding fishing licences and loss of equpment, including the boat’s motor and trolling motor. RCMP photo
Washington State trio’s fisheries violations the worst veteran officer has seen in 20 years

Judge bans three men from fishing or holding a fishing licence anywhere in Canada

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

Most Read