COVID-19: More mental-health, crisis intervention, and nutrition resources for B.C. children and youth

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      While a number of efforts to address mental-health issues have been previously announced by provincial and federal governments, a number of mental-health initiatives were announced this week that are specifically designed to help children and youth struggling with issues ranging from anxiety and depression to abuse.

      That's in addition to measures taken to ensure that the nutritional needs of vulnerable students are met while schools are closed.

      Crisis intervention fundraiser

      Canadian companies and organizations, including Canada’s Kids Help Phone, are involved in an international campaign to raise funds for supporting children and youth experiencing mental-health issues, undergoing crises, or are isolated with abusers during the pandemic.

      The Canadian Family Foundations, the Royal Bank of Canada, singer-actor Demi Lovato, Draper Richards Kaplan, Virgin Unite, and more provided $2 million to launch the Mental Health Fund on April 20.

      The GoFundMe campaign’s goal is to raise $5 million to help crisis-intervention organizations who help people, whose mental health has been impacted by the pandemic, by text messages.

      The text message services aim to widen access to crisis intervention and reach those who find it difficult to talk.

      Crisis Text Line (which is the founder of the fund) and its affiliate partners—Canada’s Kids Help Phone, Shout UK, and Ireland's SpunOut—are working together with the Mental Health Fund.

      Collectively, these organizations have experienced a 40 percent increase in texting in March and April.

      According to data from these crisis lines, 78 percent of the conversations reveal anxiety, which is the top issue with a large portion liked to financial stress while the hotlines also saw increases in conversations about emotional and physical abuse, due to people being quarantined or sheltering in place with abusers. 

      "So many people have been left alone with their thoughts, their abusers, their anxieties—and are struggling with the uncertainty of these times," Lovato stated in a news release. "I know not everyone has the ability to get the help they need so my hope is that this fund can bring support to help alleviate some of the hardship and pain people are going through."

      Mental health support for B.C. students

      Previously on April 16, the B.C. government announced the launch of a remote mental-health counselling and referral service for post-secondary students.

      The provincial government has since announced several resources for elementary and secondary school students.

      “Rarely before in our recent history have we seen such an urgent need for an explicit and intentional focus on supporting the well-being of our children, their families and our educators,” UBC education professor Kimberly A. Schonert-Reichl explained in a provincial news release that detailed new efforts launched by the B.C. government in collaboration with educators, UBC, and mental-health professionals.

      As part of WE Schools @home, the free and virtual WE Well-Being program was launched for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 who are experiencing anxiety or social isolation. 

      The program provides educators with resources for elementary-school students about self-awareness and personal responsibility, and will expand to high-school students.

      Meanwhile, parents and caregivers can use the new Everyday Anxiety Strategies for Educators (EASE) at Home program, which offers kits (for Kindergarten to Grade 3 and Grades 4 to 7) five weeks of activities (with a new game or story for each day) that can help children understand and manage their worries or anxiousness, express their emotions, and learn relaxation techniques.

      Also, a new virtual clinic will make Foundry services accessible from across B.C. for youth and their families through voice, video, or online chat.

      Foundry offers health and wellness services, resources, and support for youth aged 12 to 24 years old.

      More information about child and mental-health support is available the B.C. Health website and at the B.C. Ministry of education's Keep Learning site under "Keeping Healthy". 

      Sonja Rachbauer/Getty Images

      Nutrition needs

      While in-person classes have been closed, B.C.’s 60 school districts have been working with community organizations and businesses to ensure over 16,000 families remain supplied with over 75,000 meals at home each week.

      B.C.’s CommunityLINK (Learning Includes Nutrition and Knowledge) supports vulnerable students with meal programs and the Vulnerable Student Supplement provided 25 school districts with a total of $11.2 million in funding.

      Teachers, education assistants, support staff, and administrators have been assembling and delivering weekly grocery hampers, food boxes, and bagged lunches to homes or pick-up hubs, such as the Surrey School District’s meal pick-up and delivery program.

      Other school districts are offering grocery store gift cards and vouchers or are working with restaurants, caterers, non-profit organizations, and food banks.

      In addition, the B.C. School Fruit and Vegetable Nutritional Program is shifting its focus to delivering fruits and vegetables to low-income families with children through Food Banks B.C., schools, and community-based youth programs.

      More information is available at the CommunityLINK website.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.