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Abbot Peter Novecosky, OSB


Abbot Peter NovecoskyTeens face new challenges

The recent suicide of six girls aged 10 to 14 in northern Saskatchewan has caught the attention of all Canadians.

Everyone is anxious to understand what the problem is and what are the solutions.

Archbishop Murray Chatlain of Keewatin-Le Pas says he has seen far too many young people from northern communities take their lives. Some of the underlying factors, he said, include a sense of despair in the north and a lack of hope and purpose.

He is encouraging local community leaders to reach out to their youth. More has to be initiated on the local level, he says, including church programs.

Recent American and Canadian studies suggest some answers to this epidemic. CBC News reported that teen depression is on the rise in the U.S. and depression is a growing deadly threat.

One of the drivers of this trend, the U.S. researchers say, may be increased cellphone use among teens and girls in particular. They looked at data from national surveys on drug use and health from 2005 to 2014 for teens aged 12 to 17 and young adults aged 18 to 25.

The 12-month prevalence of major depressive episodes increased in adolescents from 8.7 per cent in 2005 to 11.3 per cent in 2014, Dr. Ramin Mojtabai of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., and his co-authors said in the Nov. 14 issue of the journal Pediatrics.

They list cyberbullying as a major concern. “Cyberbullying may have increased more dramatically among girls than boys,” they write. “As compared with adolescent boys, adolescent girls also now use mobile phones with texting applications more frequently and intensively and problematic mobile phone use among young people has been linked to depressed mood.”

Dr. Sandra Mendlowitz, a psychologist in the child and youth psychiatry outpatient program at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital, blames social media for the rise in teen depression and anxiety. She said having a social media presence is important in teens’ lives.

“You can have a number of likes and dislikes that many teenagers see as destroying their sense of self,” Mendlowitz said in an interview with CBC News Network. “That’s why it’s important to be careful about posts and how you’ll handle the responses,” she said.

In July, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) reported that a survey of more than 10,000 Ontario students in Grades 7 to 12 during the 2014-15 school year suggested that youth experiencing moderate to serious psychological distress jumped to 34 per cent in 2015 from 24 per cent in 2013. The survey showed 86 per cent of students were on social media daily. About 16 per cent spend five hours or more a day on social media.

Robert Mann, co-lead investigator of the Ontario survey, comments: “We often think of the adolescent years as the prime of life where you’re young, you’re healthy, and these data are telling us for many young people that’s not the case.”

The survey noted that levels of high distress increase significantly in the later teens, to an average of nearly 41 per cent of students in Grade 12.

Cyberbullying is prevalent on social media. The more time young people spend on social media sites, the greater the risk of cyberbullying, CAMH researchers say. About 22 per cent of students report being cyberbullied.

Social media’s power to scrutinize how we look and to permanently publicize embarrassing moments can be a liability if young people forget to live in the moment, says a child and adolescent psychiatrist at CAMH. Dr. Corine Carlisle advocates practising mindfulness to manage strong emotions before young people turn to social media. She also suggests adults need to model how to manage stress to teens.

These are practices the church also advocates: practising mindfulness and being good role models.