Published: May 19, 2021
DARTMOUTH, N.S. — Grade 12 student Gabrielle Caya says some days are harder than others and weeks feel like they’re blending together, as she learns from home during Nova Scotia’s third wave of the pandemic.
“Just yesterday and the day before, this is the third day now where I’m just so tired and drained,” the 18-year-old explains. “I have no motivation to do anything.”
Caya misses interacting with classmates and teachers in-person, or visiting friends and family.
The founder of Children First Canada, a charitable organization that strives to improve the health and well-being of children and youth across the country, is sounding the alarm on mental health challenges young people are facing during the pandemic.
“This is a pediatric emergency. For more than a year, kids have suffered gravely as a result from the pandemic and lockdown measures,” founder and CEO Sara Austin explains.
The organization, along with the country’s top children’s hospitals and other advocacy groups, launched a campaign called #CodePink Wednesday.
Austin says they are calling on the federal, provincial and territorial governments to do more for young people immediately during this difficult time.
“There has been a 100 per cent increase in suicide admissions to children’s hospitals this year,” she explains.
“Suicide was already the leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 14, but now to see this 100 per cent increase in admissions is a grave warning sign that the kids are not alright.”
Austin says children and youth are one of the hardest hit populations during the pandemic, with school closures, lack of sports, recreational programs and lockdowns.
Grade 11 student Charlene Hatcher says the past year has been difficult at times, but she has picked up various hobbies to stay busy and focused.
“I like playing piano and I picked up a bit of guitar again,” explains the 17-year-old students from Kingston, N.S. “I talk to my grandparents fairly often to make sure they’re doing ok. I think that just keeping in contact with people, even if you haven’t heard from them for a long time, is what’s important.”
On Wednesday, the province of Nova Scotia announced that public and private school students will continue with at-home learning for the rest of this school year.
The president and CEO of Kids Help Phone says in 2020 alone, young people across the country reached out for help 4.6 million times, compared to 1.9 million interactions in 2019.
“COVID had a massive impact on people,” explains Kids Help Phone President and CEO Kathy Hay. “And in the midst of this, young people had to deal in Nova Scotia, and around the country, but in specific Nova Scotia, with the tragedy of the shootings last month one year ago. That in itself, in the midst of COVID, was an extraordinary thing for young people to grapple with.”
Hay says there is no problem too small or too large for Kids Help phone. She encourages children and youth to pick up the phone and call, text or live chat with a counselor because it’s OK not to be OK.