In helping youth struggling with mental illness, Dr. Jodi Morris has worked at opposite ends of the anxiety spectrum.
The psychologist has dedicated her professional life to giving young people and their caregivers the keys to unlock the doors to a future.
In her career she has seen the good and the bad in terms of resources available to help troubled youth.
It was probably her eight years with the Geneva-based, World Health Organization, serving in some of the worst, impoverished countries which were among her most challenging, and the most rewarding, of her 15-year career.
“It’s sad,” said Morris about her time overseas. “At times I found it overwhelming, absolutely, but I think you have to focus on what you can do rather than the size of the problem.”
“Seeing children (with mental illness) in those countries chained is not uncommon but it can be heartbreaking but in many cases it’s just a safety concern. You have a large family and you need to work and you have a child who is so violent or has temper tantrums and there, for most of those kids there is just no help for those disorders.”
Youth in those countries also have the additional anxiety problems associated with extreme poverty, malnutrition, war and natural disasters.
According to Morris, while countries like Canada have much more in the way of resources to help and the underlying causes may be different, the end result is the same.
“Here there’s been a real increase in anxiety disorders and what’s particularly worrisome in adolescence is many youth struggling, instead of developing the tools. There’s a temptation to turn to drugs and alcohol and there is a real risk of a substance abuse problem into adulthood,” she said. “There is a lot of depression, a lot of anxiety and addiction. I’m seeing a lot of gaming addiction as well which is a bit new, but I think some youth are disconnecting and connecting in the gaming world rather than in the real world.
“The earlier we can identify and provide children the tools to manage these feelings the better.”
According to some people at the ground level, and the kids themselves, the spike in youth suicides in the past year is an indication young people are not getting the help they need.
“But there’s hope,” said Morris, who is based in Kelowna but also works in Penticton. “It’s hard, if I had the magic words, which I don’t, there is help available. Most people even in the depths of their pain will come out of it and will look back at that period as very painful, but are very glad they didn’t take their lives. It’s just hard to see that in the moment.”
That’s why she feels, especially for teens, having somewhere to go like the planned Youth Engagement Strategy (YES) youth resource centre scheduled to be built in Penticton this year, is so important.
“To have a place where they can go to connect and get the help that they need,” said Morris. “If youth are struggling and don’t have access to the resources they need often you see secondary problems developing.
“Yes, I think a centre where youth can access resources in an informal setting could make a difference. Many youth are hesitant to seek help through more formal sources such as going to counselling etc.”
She added, as much as the topic of mental illness has become more mainstream in recent years, there remains a stigma among adolescents when it comes to receiving therapy and counselling.
“It’s a tough time for kids so whatever can be done to help get them the tools is critical,” said Morris who recommended the following websites relating to youth and mental health issues: http://keltymentalhealth.ca and https://www.anxietybc.com.
The planned Penticton centre is to be an integrated source of services for youth 12 to 24 with the goal to catching those kids who might otherwise fall through the cracks when it comes to getting help they need.
Currently over 20 local organizations are willing to offer their services at the facility. Basic necessities such as shelter, showers, laundry and food are also planned.
A location is still to be determined.
This is part of a series of stories Penticton Western News reporters will continue to work on about youth mental health and the YES Project initiative to build a youth resource centre.