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Secondary - May  2021
In June 2020, the District Mental Health Team started planning Snapshot topics for the 2020-21 school year. We anticipated that May would be an appropriate time to address the complexities of change for our students – whether it be transitions to new grades or schools, shifting peer dynamics, or greater changes as a part of graduation. 
Little did we expect to still be under the shadow of COVID and the impact it has had on all of us: on one hand we have unprecedented change, while simultaneously our teens are frozen, losing many anticipated changes such as new friends, varied experiences and rites of passage. 

This Snapshot will address strategies for managing change as well as coping with the loss of anticipated change. We hope it provides some support during these difficult times.  
Change During High School Years
For teens, unwanted or unanticipated change may lead to feeling out of control and overwhelmed. We now know that excessive or chronic stress poses dangerous consequences on mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
Below are some tips on a responsive, rather than reactive approach to coping with change. 

Acknowledge Emotions
The first step in managing emotions with any type of life change is to give yourself permission to experience the emotion so it can run its course. Transitions, like graduation, seem to be entirely positive to onlookers but may trigger feelings of fear and anxiety for a graduate. 
Entering a new chapter of independence can be daunting. Whether it is a change of schools or the breakup of a significant relationship, change can bring out feelings of anger, rejection, and abandonment. Encourage your teen to share their feelings through journaling, talking to a counsellor or supportive adult to help process the full range of difficult emotions.
Focus on values
Remind your teen it’s okay not to have all the answers to every question or to know how every detail will play out. Being clear on their values will help them remember what is important and shield them against whatever negative emotions may arise. Ask them to list their values which will help keep their life-changes in perspective.
Reflect back
Studies have shown that people who experience new life events—new schools, new relationships, or new jobs—experience some level of anxiety, even if the change was wanted. Reflect with your teen on a time when they faced a significant change and successfully managed it, despite some initial fear. Sometimes unfamiliar events are not as scary as they seem and may simply require a little time to adjust.
Shift perspectives
Changes, whether expected or unexpected, are part of the human experience and are opportunities for growth. Rather than focus on what was lost, consider potential gains. How can this new situation be a benefit? Help them learn to make the best of new situations. They may eventually view the life change as beneficial to their personal growth and life story.

Be self-compassionate
Life often doesn’t go the way in which we intended. In fact, life can be stressful, and often disappointing. Instead of allowing frustration and self-doubt to take root, encourage your teen to offer themselves compassion. If they are confronted with a painful experience, instead of ignoring their pain or chastising themselves remind them “This is difficult right now, how can you comfort and care for yourself in this moment?” Self-compassionate individuals offer kindness to themselves and others rather than judgment and harsh criticism.
Change, Teens and a Year of COVID
What happens to a generation that gets handed a global pandemic just as it’s preparing to launch into the world? The last time around – the Spanish flu of 1918 – teenagers, as a concept, didn’t even exist, and there wasn’t much research on the survivors. That mistake won’t be repeated; mental health experts are already collecting  data on young people to analyze the long- and short-term effects of COVID-19. But their conclusions are pending; it will be years before the fallout of the pandemic is fully understood.
Mental health data from the first seven months of lockdown suggests a mixed outcome – some kids, especially those with pre-existing mental health issues and risk factors, are having a very rough time; others are getting by, even benefiting from the slower pace of life.
The science of natural disasters and global events predicts much the same: Youth are often resilient as long as the stress doesn’t last too long or become too severe, and they get the support they need from adults. The theory of generations suggests that COVID-19 will have a long life in the memory of those coming of age in the middle of it – big events that happen in adolescence tend to be most formative for values and priorities. However, the individual experiences for each youth may vary widely. 
This differences in experiences is already evident in survey data and hospital statistics up to this past October. The pandemic doesn’t appear, so far, to have led to a rise in suicide rates, according to preliminary data from provincial coroners. 

In BC, hospitals saw an overall drop in pediatric emergency department visits, and admissions for suicidal thoughts and self-harm.  At the same time, calls to crisis lines have jumped exponentially, and the young people who are being admitted to hospital are in more serious condition. 

Teens talk about the affect of the pandemic
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Signs your Teen may need support
Changes in mood that are not usual for your child, such as ongoing irritability, feelings of hopelessness or rage, and frequent conflicts with friends and family.

Changes in behavior, such as stepping back from personal relationships. If your ordinarily outgoing teen shows little interest in texting or connecting with their friends, for example, this might be cause for concern.
Changes in appetite, weight or eating patterns, such as never being hungry or eating all the time.

A loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed. Did your music-loving child suddenly stop wanting to practice guitar, for example? Did your aspiring chef lose all interest in cooking and baking?

Changes in appearance, such as lack of basic personal hygiene.

Problems with memory, thinking, or concentration.
Less interest in schoolwork and drop in academic effort.

A hard time falling or staying asleep, or starting to sleep all the time.

An increase in risky or reckless behaviors, such as using drugs or alcohol.

Thoughts about death or suicide, or talking about it.
A word about suicide risk:
Remember, not everyone who considers suicide will talk about it, and not everyone who talks about suicide will act on their words. However, any talk about suicide should be taken seriously.  Seek help immediately by calling the Vancouver Island Crisis Line at 1-888-494-3888. Reserve 911 for situations where self-harming actions are happening or are about to happen. 
Mental Wellness Moment
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A change in teenagers’ personalities and behaviours might indicate they are struggling with the stress of COVID-19. In this Mental Wellness Moment, Dr. Nicholas Mitchell provides parents and caregivers advice on how they can help.
Setting the tone
Parents/guardians set the tone in the household. Expressing extreme doom or fear can affect your children. It can be challenging to stay positive, especially if you're struggling with your own stress. But try to stay positive and relay consistent messages that a brighter future lies ahead. It helps to set aside time to take care of yourself when possible, and seek the support you may need for your own mental health.
May  Secondary School Poster
Teenagers in secondary school are learning how to manage and create a life of their own. Parents, family, educators and friends have influenced their lives in many ways, but now it's time to for them to begin to create their own path, particularly those graduating in June 2021. 

This poster highlights secondary students growing autonomy and responsibility for becoming the best they can be.

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