Taryn Zeger described teenage years or early adulthood as a delicate balance between independence and autonomy, making their mental health all the more challenging.
The psychotherapist who works at three clinics across the Greater Toronto Area said initiatives such as World Mental Health Day are important for younger generations. Older generations did not think as much about their mental health.
“Young people still need some guidance, but they also want to be able to learn and do things independently. They are still very impressionable by things that they see around them,” Zeger said.
“What their peers are doing, role models, social media, and all of those things play a huge role in teenage mental health,” she said.
World Mental Health Day has been around since 1992, yet mental health challenges have existed for much longer.
Youth Mental Health Canada stated in 2019 that 70 per cent of mental health challenges begin during childhood or adolescence, with those between the ages of 15 and 24 being more likely to experience mental illness or substance use disorders.
“Seeing influencers who are popular in social media, and they also happen to be extremely thin or underweight, often inadvertently perpetuates the narrative that that’s how young people have to be to get attention or acceptance from their peers,” Zeger said.
“The pandemic made this issue much worse for young people by being isolated from their peers,” she said.
Claire Benny, a postdoctoral fellow for Public Health Ontario, said the influence of this “social environment,” paired with other factors, is a significant challenge for teenagers’ mental health.
“When you bring in other systemic factors such as poverty and discrimination, I think that’s one major reason why teens these days feel depressed or anxious. But it depends on the mental disorder,” Benny said.
“Oftentimes, teens aren’t aware of the resources that are available to them. I think schools could be doing a better job of letting them know that there are guidance departments, but there’s also an entire world outside of that,” she said.
Kathryn Mettler, program coordinator of Humber College’s Addictions and Mental Health Post-Graduate Certificate, included what faculty are doing for youth mental health.
“At the program level, what we’ve been trying to do is look at how we incorporate and understand that mental health is not something that is experienced by a particular group within society, but that we understand mental health along a continuum,” Mettler said.
“In the classroom, we try to allow people the ability to participate in different ways and to be engaged in different ways, recognizing that there are different abilities and different levels of comfort within the classroom setting,” she said.
Chloe White-Meaney, a Humber Lakeshore student, took this idea a step further and created a safe place in the form of a mental health club in September 2023, along with Ruta Baya, Tialynn Campbell, and Asia Smith.
“For World Mental Health Day, we are hosting our first general meeting,” White-Meaney said. “All Humber students are welcome to attend and hopefully join our club. We offer guided meditation, resources, snacks, and activities to help de-stress.
“The most important aspect of spreading awareness is education,” she said. “Through hosting events and beginning conversations, we can begin to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.”