Page 1

Healthier You Fall




Volume 7, Issue 3





Shellie O’Brien, Northern Health’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Lead, dives into the challenges of sexual health among youth, and the effects it has on mental wellness.




TALKING TO OUR KIDS Having difficult conversations aren’t easy, but they’re important.



LIBRARIES - A PLACE FOR ALL����������������������������������� 14


BACK TO BASICS��������������������������������������������������������������� 21

Look no further for resources when it comes to youth mental health; Kelty and Compass are here for support.

Hear what Laurie Mutschke and Terri Finlayson have to say about the positive effects of kitchen time on their students’ mental wellness!

FILLING THE EMPTY VESSEL OF POTENTIAL IN TODAY’S YOUTH����������������������������������������������������������������� 9 Is your child filling their time with more than just “hangin’ out”? Find out how to avoid the void!

BEING A TEEN CAN BE TOUGH! GETTING ACTIVE CAN HELP������������������������������������������������������������������������������ 11 Physical Activity Lead Gloria Fox reminds us to keep moving for better mental health. 2

Healthier You

FALL 2018

What’s a safe or inclusive place look like to you? Christopher Knapp connects the LGBTQ2 community and public libraries. Sleep, nutrition, social connection, substance use... They all impact youth mental health differently, but how much?

IN TODAY’S WORLD, FAT IS CONSIDERED A FOUR LETTER WORD. WHY IS THAT? �������������������� 23 Rilla Reardon, Northern Health Clinical Dietitian, smashes the mirror on body image in today’s society.


Youth today are faced with many challenges that may affect their mental wellness.

Cathy Ulrich President and Chief Executive Officer, Northern Health

As you may know, mental health plays an important role in growing up healthy. As parents, caregivers, healthcare professionals, and trusted adults, we need to understand the challenges our youth face and the potential consequences for mental wellness in order to enable this generation of youth to thrive!

Where can you find Healthier You?

This edition of Northern Health’s Healthier You will focus on topics relating to youth mental wellness.

• Doctors’ offices • Walk-in clinics • Pharmacies • Other community settings

Here’s some good news. As you’ll discover in this edition, there are many simple ways we can have a positive impact on the mental wellness of young people. The authors in this edition cover a wide spectrum of subjects, providing great resources and tips throughout their articles.

For example, in Shellie O’Brien’s article, which focuses on the connection between mental wellness and sexual health, we learn that helping a young person’s mental wellness develop is as easy as being an ‘Askable Adult’ (page 18). Rilla Reardon’s piece (page 23) helps uncover the truths between mental wellness and body image, and asks us to open the doors for conversation about why today’s media can impact the perception of body image.

Healthier You Volume 7, Issue 3 – Fall 2018

Published by:

the northern way of caring


Copyright ©2017. All rights reserved. Reproduction of articles permitted with credit. Northern Health

Contributors / Healthier You is produced by the Northern Health health promotions team with contributions from Northern Health staff and partner organizations, in partnership with The Prince George Citizen.

Advertising Sales Prince George Citizen

Advertisements in this magazine are coordinated by The Prince George Citizen. Northern Health does not endorse products or services. Any errors, omissions or opinions found in this magazine should not be attributed to the publisher. The authors, the publisher and the collaborating organizations will not assume any responsibility for commercial loss due to business decisions made based on the information contained in this magazine. Speak with your doctor before acting on any health information contained in this magazine. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted without crediting Northern Health and The Prince George Citizen. Printed in Canada. Please recycle.

Stacie Weich’s article (page 21) speaks about the basics of youth mental health, providing insight about necessities such as sleep and social connection. It’s important to discuss anything that helps youth become healthier and more successful, especially if we, as adults, have a chance to positively affect the outcome. That’s why we’re pleased to tackle a subject like youth mental wellness in this edition. Raising awareness and providing resources on this topic today has the potential to help young people right now, as well as to create positive, lasting impact. I hope you’ll read on and agree. As always, if you have a wellness or healthy community story that you’d like to see in a future issue of Healthier You, please contact our health promotions team at

FALL 2018

Healthier You




MORE INFORMATION Michelle Horn, Program Manager, Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre and Julie Budkowski, Project Manager, Compass

For more information about Compass, visit or email

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.

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

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. 4

Healthier You

FALL 2018

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 it’s 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, or visiting their website at

“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 B.C. 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 B.C. 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.

FALL 2018

Healthier You



THERE’S NO PERFECT WRITTEN RECIPE, BUT PARKSIDE HAS FOUND A WAY TO COOK UP STRONG MENTAL WELLNESS Interviewees: Laurie Mutschke, School Meal Coordinator, and Terri Finlayson, Parkside Secondary School Teacher

“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. 6

Healthier You

FALL 2018

Emilia Moulechkova, Population Health Dietitian, Northern Health

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.   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 accomplishment. Sometimes being in the kitchen becomes the reward. Not the eating of the food, but the preparing. We have a Continued on page 8

FALL 2018

Healthier You


Continued from page 7

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 8

Healthier You

FALL 2018

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 Or visit the Northern Health Healthy Eating at School page at:



Josh Van der Meer, Youth Mental Health and Addictions Counsellor, Northern Health, Foundry Youth Wellness Centre

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. Continued on page 10

“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. The experience of being a teenager The teenage years are a time of massive inner change and growth. 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!

“Put a jacket on!” At this stage, we tend to see high risk, adrenalineproducing 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 FALL 2018

Healthier You


Continued from page 9

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 box below for ways you can help make the transition from adolescence to adulthood as positive as it can be.

MORE INFORMATION 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 10

Healthier You

FALL 2018

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. More information can be found at



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. Continued on page 12

FALL 2018

Healthier You



Continued from page 11

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.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 1 in 7 people in British Columbia will be affected by mental illness at some point. 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 12

Healthier You

FALL 2018

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. 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 find 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.

MORE INFORMATION Here are a few ways making physical activity a priority can help improve youth mental wellness: • Physical activity is a healthy coping mechanism. It can help clear the mind and decrease anxiety levels. • 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. • Getting involved in an activity or sport with others helps build social connections, which are vital to our emotional well-being. • Being physically active helps boost self-esteem – a key indicator of mental health! It also helps us build resilience to fight daily stressors. • One word: endorphins! When we raise our heart rates, our bodies produce endorphins, or “feel-good” chemicals, giving us an immediate mental boost.

For more information on the links between physical activity and mental health: The Brain + Body Equation: 2018 ParticipACTION Report Card on Physical Activity for Children & Youth: Canadian Psychological Association “Psychology Works” Fact Sheet: Physical Activity, Mental Health, and Motivation: PsychologyWorksFactSheet_PhysicalActivity_ MentalHealth_Motivation.pdf International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, Sedentary behavior and depressive symptoms among 67,077 adolescents aged 12-15 years from 30 low- and middle-income countries: FALL 2018

Healthier You




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 as Becky Albertalli’s Simon versus the Homo Sapiens Agenda are dominating bestsellers lists this year. Narratives featuring relatable LGBTQ2 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. 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, 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.


Healthier You

FALL 2018

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.

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!

• 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.

MORE INFORMATION 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 LGBTQ2 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.

FALL 2018

Healthier You



HAVING A CONVERSATION DOES MORE THAN YOU KNOW Erin Anderlini, Health Director, Prince George Native Friendship Centre

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 antiviolence rallies, anti-racism rallies, and Aboriginal rights marches. As always, I’ll run into someone I know there 16

Healthier You

FALL 2018

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.


CULTURAL WELL-BEING IS FOUNDATIONAL TO HEALTHY WELL-BEING. Language is a key aspect of identity for everyone. For Indigenous youth, learning their languages supports connections within families and communities, and creates a sense of belonging. Many communities have language advisory groups, classes, and language teachers dedicated to maintaining their languages. Here are some ways you can support Indigenous language revitalization: 1. Learn the name of your town or city in the Indigenous language(s) of the region. 2. Learn a greeting – and a response! – in the Indigenous language of your region and use it often. 3. Incorporate Indigenous place names and greetings on posters and signs at your workplace. 4. Recognize Indigenous languages as living languages by identifying them in land acknowledgements. 5. Remember that some languages have many dialects. Be open to corrections on your pronunciation and ask if you are not sure.

“The identities, lives, and futures of Indigenous peoples have been immeasurably affected by the forced removal of their languages. The efforts they are making to bring the languages back to life can have a huge, positive impact on individuals, families and communities.” *Adapted from UNESCO Unesco/Resources/IndigenousLanguagesCCUNESCO.pdf


Wiggus nyïclh’iy - I respect you

Jessie sozï ‘ - My name is Jessie

Ma’ - Yes

Dzïn honzu - Good day

Soo’ - No

Sne kalyëgh - Thank you FALL 2018

Healthier You



LOOKING TO CONNECT WITH YOUR YOUTH ON A TRICKY TOPIC? BECOME AN “ASKABLE ADULT” Shellie O’Brien, Regional Lead Sexual & Reproductive Health, Northern Health

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, selfdiscovery… the list itself is overwhelming! Young people have a lot of things happening at once; I saw this firsthand 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.

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.

Reducing stigma

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.

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.

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.”


Healthier You

FALL 2018

MORE INFORMATION 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.

• 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 • Remember, you don’t have to know it all. Be an the door for clarification and more questions and active learner yourself. Your teen will teach you reinforces your commitment to supporting and just as much as you teach them. Look to your encouraging your child. 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.

Continued on page 20

FALL 2018

Healthier You

 19

Continued from page 19

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.

MORE INFORMATION • • • • 1-800-739-7367


Healthier You

FALL 2018

• • • •

• • • Youth support line 1-888-564-8336



have big impacts. Including youth in the planning and preparing of meals can support skill building and provide opportunity for connection. Sleep

Stacie Weich, Regional Lead, Mental Wellness and Prevention of Substance Harms, Northern Health

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.

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. Continued on page 22

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 FALL 2018

Healthier You


Continued from page 21

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.



Healthier You

FALL 2018


IT’S TIME TO TAKE A SECOND LOOK IN THE MIRROR AT OUR BODY IMAGE Rilla Reardon, Clinical Dietitian, Northern Health

When we turn on the TV or run through our social media feed, we are bombarded with images of thin, fit, photo-shopped, “PERFECT” people. But is this the norm? And is this healthy? In a recent study, girls, ages three and five, who were presented with dolls of different shapes preferred the thin version, describing the bigger dolls as sad, tired, and having no friends. We think we are immune to media, but even young children are exposed to messaging that implies being in a bigger body is bad. The fat phobic society we live in contributes to a negative body image. Body image is our own perception of our physical appearance, including our thoughts and feelings about the way we look. It impacts self-esteem, mental health, and well-being. Negative body image may lead to unhealthy dieting behaviours, the development of disordered eating and eating disorders, and may also lead to feelings of shame, guilt, low self-worth, and unhappiness. It’s estimated that 40 to 60 percent of girls aged six to twelve are concerned about their weight. As parents and caregivers, we often encourage our kids to be their healthiest. This may come across in messages about eating, activity, or striving to be a certain body size. While the intentions are good, these types of messages can often be misinterpreted by kids - that there is something wrong with their body and they need to change their shape or weight. If you look around where you live and in your family, healthy bodies are very diverse. Weight is not the biggest, or only, indicator of health. Focusing on well-being and healthy habits is more important than any number on the scale! It’s important to have age-appropriate conversations with our children about health and body image, and work towards fostering a healthy relationship with our bodies. How can you support youth to promote a healthy body image? Be a positive role model. Be aware of your self-talk around weight and food, and get curious about your

own beliefs and attitudes about body size and eating. For example, let your child catch you saying one positive thing about your body daily. Celebrate diversity. Help your child to focus on their own unique qualities and talents rather than appearance as a foundation for self-esteem. Open up the conversation. Talk about how media can impact our body image, or invite your kids to share how they are feeling about their bodies. Teach your kids to view media messages critically. Help create awareness of how images and slogans make us feel about our bodies, and talk about how these images do not depict reality. Check out this tip sheet from MediaSmarts to get started: mediasmarts. ca/teacher-resources/co-viewing-your-kids-tip-sheet Eat together. Plan and offer regular family meals as a way to encourage family time and model healthy approaches to eating. Get your kids involved in cooking too – how about a build your own taco or pizza night? Make meals and snacks enjoyable. Practice an “all foods fit” approach in your home, offer a variety of foods and create a shame/guilt-free space to make food choices. Take a balanced approach to physical activity. Encourage physical movement that is joyful, and focus on the fun, social aspects of being active. Refrain from teaching your child that activity is punishment or used to compensate for eating. Explore what health really means to you and your family. Recognize that health is more than the absence of disease or having a certain body size. Health is inclusive of emotional, intellectual, social, spiritual, and physical wellness. Don’t let focusing on one (physical) compromise another (mental). Health may mean something different to you than your child. Take the opportunity to explore. Plan family activities that promote a balanced view towards health. If you think that you or someone you love has an eating disorder, please contact the Northern Health Eating Disorders Clinic at 250-565-7479. FALL 2018

Healthier You


A Healthier You | Fall 2018  
A Healthier You | Fall 2018