Law Society of Upper Canada

I had the pleasure of giving a talk entitled ‘Youth Mental Health: A Caregiver’s Guide’ yesterday at the Law Society of Upper Canada here in Toronto, ON, Canada. It was a wonderful group of people who had great questions, and it was amazing to speak about statistics in youth mental health, and some things that parents can do to help support their children and build resiliency. As part of that talk, I provided a number of resources that can be accessed here.

Let’s make children’s mental health a priority!!

Test Anxiety

The end of the school year is upon us, and brings with it the mad rush to complete summative assignments and prepare for final exams. Writing exams can increase anxiety, and can be especially challenging for individuals with performance anxiety. Some adolescents may find listening to a relaxation exercise helpful. This one is geared specifically to tests and exams. It may be helpful to listen to the recording several times, over several days, prior to writing the first exam. Please feel free to provide feedback about the recording to drwalker@theclinicondupont.com.

 

 

Download Now

 

 

Sports-Related Concussion in Children and Adolescents

With going back to school, the start of football, volleyball, basketball and hockey season are upon us. School and local teams are gearing up and the first games of the season have started. This may be the perfect time to review concussion symptoms and management. Please note, I am not a physicianYou should always consult first with a physician if you suspect your child might have a concussion. As a clinical neuropsychologist working with children and adolescents, I do assess cognitive symptoms that may be related to concussion or other mild traumatic brain injury, consulting with physicians, other health professionals, coaches and educators.

A large part of the information presented here is taken from recent research and guidelines from the Canadian Pediatric Society. In addition, some information is from a recent conference I attended on concussion in sport through The Mayo Clinic. Here are a number of questions and answers to help you understand what concussion is, and some basic information about management and prevention.

What is a concussion?

According to the CPS, a concussion is a result of either a direct blow to the head or somewhere on the body such that it transmits force to the head. The force from impact can affect the brain in a number of ways and cause brief neurological impairment.

What are the common symptoms of concussion?

There are a number of common symptoms associated with concussion, which fit into four categories:

Physical symptoms – headache, nausea, dizziness, visual disturbances, sensitivity to light or sound, amnesia, vomiting, slurred speech, loss of balance/reduced coordination, numbness, or loss of consciousness

Emotional symptoms – irritability, sudden mood changes, sadness, anxiety, or inappropriate emotions

Cognitive symptoms – memory impairment, confusion, slow responding or processing of information, reduced concentration, disorientation

Sleep symptoms – drowsiness, trouble falling asleep, sleeping more or less than usual

It is possible that symptoms in young children may not be as clearly defined. For example, a young child might complain of a stomach ache or that their head feels funny or strange. Any symptoms experienced by an individual following a possible concussion warrant an evaluation.

Note: Loss of consciousness occurs in 10% or less of all cases, and may not be an accurate predictor of concussion severity.

What should be done if a person is suspected of having a concussion?

The first and most important thing is to remove the individual from play, whether it is a game or practice, and not allow them to return for at least that game. If a concussion is suspected, but it is difficult to determine whether this is indeed the case, use the following: When in doubt, sit them out!

There are also a number of measures that can be used on the sidelines to assess for symptoms of concussion. However, these require some training to administer. Some coaches or team medical support staff can use these tools to assess symptoms of concussion on the field of play. For example, the Sport Concussion Assessment Tool 2 (SCAT2) can be used for individuals aged 10 or older. Measures specifically made for use with children and adolescents have yet to be developed. In addition, no one test has been developed to assess all symptoms of concussion or predict rate of recovery.

If the individual is unconscious, they should be removed from the field by medical professionals (ambulance staff, emergency or sport physicians), using all necessary precautions for spinal or other injury. Transfer to the hospital emergency department is often recommended in these cases.

Individuals that did not lose consciousness should be monitored closely, and complete an evaluation by a physician as soon as possible. It would be most helpful if the physician has experience working with athletes and/or concussion. The evaluation should include a full neurological assessment. A physician with experience in this area can provide management strategies (e.g., limiting cognitive and physical activity as the brain recovers), and develop a plan to monitor the child and help them slowly return to their activities.

The individual should not be left alone for the first 24 to 48 hours, and monitored regularly for deterioration in function or increased symptoms. Sleep is an important part of the recovery process, and children and adolescents should be allowed to sleep. If any signs of deterioration are noted, they should be brought to the emergency department immediately. It is very important that an individual does not return to play if they are still experiencing symptoms.

Who should be involved in evaluating a concussion?

The most important people are parents. You know your child, how they behave, their regular emotions, their thinking and learning abilities, their motor skills and balance, and general health. If you note any changes in these areas when monitoring them following concussion, it is important to bring them up with your child’s physician and coaches.

A physician with training in sports-related concussion is also important. They know the questions to ask regarding symptoms of concussion, can speak with parents and coaches about returning to play, and can help in developing a return-to-play protocol once your child is symptom free.

A neuropsychologist can help to assess for cognitive symptoms that the child might be experiencing, which are not always as apparent. This might include assessing memory, attention, processing speed or reaction time, and such things as planning or problem-solving. Completing a neuropsychological assessment may help parents, coaches, physicians and schools understand the impact of a concussion on a child, and provide additional supports to the child or adolescent as they return to their normal life (school, sports, friends, etc.). Some health teams use a computerized testing program to screen for cognitive symptoms, although it is helpful to supplement these programs with paper-and-pencil testing completed by a neuropsychologist, especially if a child or adolescent continues to experience symptoms longer than would be expected or more severe symptoms.

Unless a neuropsychological or psychoeducational assessment was completed prior to the concussion, it may be difficult to determine whether some learning or thinking difficulties were pre-existing, or are new. Regardless, putting supports in place as your child or adolescent recovers from a concussion is paramount. Not only may they require a gradual return to play, but they may also need a gradual return to other activities, such as school and homework.

How long do symptoms generally last?

This can be quite variable. Typically, following a single concussion, symptoms generally resolve within 7 to 10 days (this occurs in 90 to 95% of adolescent athletes, according to research). However, some individuals can experience symptoms that last weeks, even months. Some research has shown that younger children take longer to recover from concussion. Cognitive symptoms may also take longer to resolve in children and adolescents. This may be because their brains are still developing, and may have different neurobiological responses to injury than an adult brain. Further research is needed in this area.

Concussion symptoms may resolve for an individual while they are at rest (i.e., not engaged in physical activity), but symptoms may return when they begin to exercise or engage in cognitive activities. In this case, they would not be considered ‘symptom-free’.

Are there any complications that could occur following a concussion?

Yes, there are, although complications are rare. One complication that occurs primarily in children and adolescents is something called ‘malignant brain edema syndrome’. This is thought to be caused by a problem with regular blood flow to the brain, leading to increased pressure and swelling in the brain. This can cause the brainstem to herniate, possibly leading to coma and death. A second rare (and often fatal) complication is called ‘second impact syndrome’, which also occurs in young athletes. It is thought to happen when a youth experiences a second concussion while symptoms from the first concussion have not yet resolved. However, research supporting this theory is not yet available, and more research is needed.

What factors can affect concussion severity and recovery?

There is still a lot of research to be done in this area. However, factors such as a child’s age, a history of multiple concussions, or a co-morbid disorder such as a learning disability may affect recovery and how your health team manages your child’s treatment. It is important to tell your health team about these factors to ensure they are considered in treatment planning. For example, it is possible that having a previous concussion can increase the risk for another head injury, and more severe symptoms. As such, a player with a history of multiple concussions may need a more conservative treatment plan.

Are there things we can do to prevent concussions?

It is important to note that helmets currently prevent such things as skull fractures or open traumatic head injuries. Helmets are very important and necessary in keeping your child’s head safe from the outside, and should be worn when engaging in most sports. When a child or adolescent wears a helmet, it may make them feel safe and think they are not at risk for a head injury. Children and adolescents should be reminded that while a helmet protects them from some head injuries, it does not protect them from all head injuries. There is currently no helmet or other safety device that can keep your brain safe and free from the effects of an impact to your head or body. Reducing aggression in sport, as well as teaching players appropriate sporting techniques (e.g., proper body checking in hockey) can be helpful in reducing concussion. In addition, some sporting rules have been changed to help reduce the likelihood of concussion, such as no checking for younger hockey teams. Educating players, coaches, trainers, parents and health professionals about concussion symptoms and management can help ensure players are aware of and reporting symptoms, and proper return to play management is enforced.

 

If you want to learn more about concussion, here are some additional resources that you might find helpful.

University of Toronto Concussion Program

Canadian Pediatric Society Guidelines for Evaluation and Management of Concussion

Think First Brain Injury Prevention

Teenage Boys’ Brains Tested to Gauge Concussion: Article in The Toronto Star

Still Much to Learn About Hockey Concussions: Article on CBCSports.ca

 

 

The Development of Attention

When a child has difficulties with attention, we often start to notice these difficulties as they enter school. Sometimes the teacher will bring to a parent’s attention that their child is having trouble sitting still during circle time, focusing on a task, or following instructions. It is important to distinguish between what is developmentally appropriate, and what might be indicative of attention issues. Here are some questions and answers about attention:

What is attention?

There are a number of theories about what attention is. Most commonly, attention is thought to be the focusing on an object, person or event while our brains process information related to that object, person or event. While we are ‘paying attention’ to something, we are working on blocking out things in our environment that might interfere with this focus. As such, our brains are doing a few things at once. Our ability to attend to something is thought to increase during childhood, due to development of the brain. Interestingly, brain imaging has shown that early in infancy, subcortical areas of our brain, those areas involved in more basic processes (such as reflexes) are activated when a child is attending to an object or person. Researchers have looked at heart rate during attention tasks, and noted that an individual’s heart rate decreases when they are fully attending to something – this pattern has not been noted in very young infants (Richards, 2004). This may be because an infant has limited visual and auditory abilities, and may be turning or orienting themselves towards a sound or change in their visual field, rather than fully attending to something. Activation of the brain gradually shifts during the first 6 months after birth from these subcortical areas, to areas of the cortex (the parietal and temporal lobes, which are involved in processing sensory information, including sounds and sights), and finally to the frontal and prefrontal areas of the brain. These frontal and prefrontal areas of the brain are often involved in higher level processing of information. For example, these areas are also activated when completing tasks that involve organization, planning, problem-solving and higher-level reasoning. Researchers have outlined many types of attention, such as visual or auditory attention, sustained attention, selective or focused attention or divided attention.

How does attention develop during childhood?

It is important for parents, educators and health professionals to understand how attention develops, and what is ‘normal’ at different ages. It takes some time for a child to learn to complete one-step instructions without the support of an adult. Cambridgeshire Community Services in the United Kingdom have a table posted on their website that briefly outlines what to expect at different ages with respect to attention skills. This table can be viewed by clicking here. A summary of research identifies 6 stages of attention development, and the average time that a child can attend to a stimulus over time, from age 2 to 7 – this can be viewed by clicking here. Basically, these resources indicate that a child should be able to fully pay attention for up to an hour, and complete a task without adult support around the age of 6. Of course, there will be variability in this, as not all children are made the same. Some may take a little more, or a little less, time than others to fully develop this skill. There is also variability depending on what the child is attending to – some things may be easier to pay attention to than others.

What do I need to think about when helping a child develop their attention skills?

There are a number of activities that a parent or teacher can engage in with a child to help develop these skills. However, a number of considerations must be made when working on these skills.

  • How skilled in the child in controlling his or her behaviour? How impulsive is he/she? Is he/she able to stop him/herself from jumping around long enough to focus on a task? If this is a challenge, it might be helpful to wear out some of this energy first before starting an attention task, or to set up a reward that the child can have when they finish the task.
  • How motivated is the child to engage in the task? Is the task of some interest to him or her? You may want to ask the child about his or her interests, and then pick something with them that they seem excited about.
  • Is the child able to understand and complete the task? For example, if he or she does not know his/her colours, or the alphabet, you would not want to engage in a task that focuses on these things.
  • What setting are you able to complete the task in? You may want to start working on attention skills in a quiet setting, and gradually work up to a setting with more noise and distractions. If you start in a noisy environment, this may be overwhelming for the child and limit your success.
  • While you want some structure to your task, you may need to break it up for ‘energy release breaks’. Pick a task that you can break up into parts, if needed.
  • While lots of choices can be great, too many can be overwhelming. Keep choices to a minimum.
  • Praise is an important part of working on attention skills. Recognizing the child’s efforts will help them feel more positive about the work they are doing, and also increase self-esteem.
  • Mood can certainly have an impact on a child’s ability to pay attention. When working on tasks to build attention skills, it may be helpful to ensure the child is in a happy, content mood before starting. It will also be important to maintain that mood as much as possible throughout the activity.
  • Consistency is key. Keeping a child’s schedule consistent reduces the amount of information they need to think about, and can help them to reserve their brain power for when they really need to focus on something. Morning routines, bedtime routines and regularly scheduled ‘down time’ can be helpful.

What can a parent or teacher do to help a child work on their attention skills?

Now that you have some understanding of what is developmentally normal for attention skills, and some considerations when helping a child develop attention skills, there are some activities that you might enjoy engaging in with your child. These activities may work on other skills as well.

  • Concentration: also called Memory. Do you remember when you were a child and you had a deck of cards with animals (or objects) on them? You would put them all face down, and flip them up two at a time, trying to find a match. Then, if you did not have a match, you would flip them face down again, and start over. You can even do this with a regular deck of cards! Take out a few pairs of numbers, mix them up, and play the game. Over time, you can increase the number of cards to choose from. This both increases the amount of time a child has to sit and perform the task, as well as how much they have to remember.
  • There are a number of activities on the website, Eye Can Learn, that work on visual skills, but also attention. For example, Hidden Pictures requires both visual perception skills, as well as selective attention.
  • The Teaching Expertise website has a number of activities to help improve listening skills and attention. For example, if your child likes to colour, they may enjoy listening to some fun instructions telling them how to colour something. Or, if you child likes to play guessing games, 20 questions may be a fun activity that requires them to focus their attention for a period of time.
  • Scavenger hunts can be a great way to have fun while working on attention. You may make a list of common items you have around your house, and offer a reward each time your child finds one of these items. Alternatively, finding an item might lead to the next clue, and a bigger reward in the end.
  • Meditation can be very helpful for improving attention (even in adults!). Taking some time to clear your mind and relax each day can help you to focus better when you need to.

Should I be concerned about my child’s ability to pay attention?

Often, difficulties with attention are noted when a child begins school, as mentioned above. Teachers have the benefit of seeing how a child compares to his or her peers in the classroom, making it easier to see when a child is having difficulties focusing throughout the day. It is important to have a discussion with your child’s teacher to find out what your child is doing, and to think about whether these are behaviours you have seen at home. It is also important to think about other possible explanations – have there been significant changes at home? Does your child have symptoms of anxiety? Does your child have any significant medical conditions or are they on any medication that might affect their ability to focus in the classroom? Currently, psychologists, psychiatrists and other health professionals look to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fourth Edition, when deciding about such diagnoses as Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. The criteria for ADHD can be found by clicking here. If you have concerns, it may be helpful to speak with your pediatrician or family physician for more guidance, or get a referral to a mental health professional. In addition, a psychological assessment that examines attention, using interview, observation, questionnaires and standardized measures to assess attention, cognitive skills and academics, can be useful for school and community planning.

 

 

 

Transitioning Back to School

It is that time of year again – school is about to start. Summer has gone by, and the kids may not want it to end. Often, the thought of heading back to school can heighten anxiety, both in children and parents. Getting the new school year off to a good start can be important for a child’s social, emotional and academic well-being. When starting off the new year, giving your child the right tools will increase confidence in the classroom. A number of websites provide tips to help parents and children navigate this transition successfully. Below, I have listed a few of these websites, but here are 10 important tips from these resources to help you get started.

1. Review any materials that the school may have sent you, ahead of time. This might include the teacher’s name and room number, school supply list, school calendar dates, information about signing up for school activities, emergency forms, bus transportation information or school rules around lunches, electronics and such.

2. Get school supplies, clothing, uniforms, lunch kits, backpacks, etc. set up ahead of time.

3. Ease back into regular mealtimes and bedtimes. Getting back into routine can be hard after a summer of fun, so giving time to adjust to the regular schedule can mean better functioning for your child as they get back into their school year routine.

4. For younger (and sometimes older) children, it may be helpful to review the morning routine with them before school starts. You may wish to make a checklist (with pictures for younger children) of what they need to do (e.g., eat breakfast, shower, brush teeth, get dressed, make/pack lunch, organize backpack, make sure homework is done, etc.). They can refer to this list, as needed.

5. If possible, visit the school with your child before school starts. You can show them where their classroom is, and if their new teacher is available, your child might have a quick visit with them. This can help ease any anxiety your child might be experiencing.

6. Summers can often mean less regular visits with friends. It may be helpful to set up some visits with friends the week before school, so they can figure out ways to support each other once school starts – for example, they may set up a meeting place on the first day of school, or carpool together.

7. The first week back to school can be tiring for both parents and children. It might be helpful to make a few easy meals the week before and freeze them, so they can be pulled out and reheated when you are all feeling tired.

8. If your child is feeling anxious about school, talk with them about it. Let them know that you are there to support them, and help them find some strategies that they can use on their own. It is natural to be a little nervous, so it is important for parents to stay calm, be patient and to not overreact.

9. Once school starts, try to fit in a time with your kids each day to discuss the school day with them, and make sure things are starting out OK. Having 15 minutes each day to talk may help your child resolve any issues they maybe having.

10. Set up a folder for yourself to keep track of school forms and information so that you can easily access it when needed. You might include information in the file such as emergency contact information, immunization records for you child, or the name and email address of your child’s teacher.

Take a look at these websites for more ‘back to school’ tips!

PBS Back to School Transition

NASP Online Back to School Transitions: Tips for Parents

Great Schools: Back to School Preparation

 

Relaxation on the Internet

There are a number of ways to help you relax and reduce feelings of tension or stress in your body. When engaging in therapy for mental health issues, practicing relaxation and learning to control feelings of tension or stress in your mind and body are often important steps to master. Some people may find doing exercise is helpful, such as running, yoga or boxing. Others may feels that meditation or mindfulness-based activities are more likely to reduce tension for them.

DarleneWalkerPhD.com has three mindfulness-based relaxation recordings that you can try – download them from the links on the top right of this page. In addition, there are a number of resources on the internet that may be helpful and give you some other ideas about relaxation strategies that might work for you. Remember that if you experience any pain or stiffness in your body, you should consult with a doctor before engaging in more active relaxation methods. Enjoy exploring!

 

Inner Health Studio – This website has a number of resources, including worksheets and ‘scripts’ that can be used to help reduce anxiety and increase relaxation. For instance, there is a script that may be helpful when a child is afraid of the dark or having difficulty falling asleep. They highlight a number of tips for relaxation, such as finding a quiet place, getting comfortable, starting with a short session and working your way up, and trying different methods until you find the one that is right for you.

www.calm.com – This website has a number of sceneries, sounds and music that you can use when trying to relax. Take yourself to the beach, listen to a babbling brook, or watch the wind move through the tall grasses.

Casual Girl Gamer – this website blogger made a Top 10 list of what she feels are the most relaxing games online. Some may find these are fun, short distractions when feeling stressed.

 

Yogamazing – Chaz has a number of yoga videos that you can stream or download from iTunes. His videos are short or long, with a different focus such as different body regions. Click here to access his free Podcasts.

Buddhanet – This website has a number of meditations, chanting and other guided relaxation. Malcolm Huxter has a recording called Body Scan that is a mindfulness meditation which helps you to think about your body and the sensations that you feel.

Relaxation with Andrew Johnson – there are a number of recordings available as MP3s or CDs, as well as apps for Android, iPhone/iPad, Blackberry, etc. (the ‘Lite’ versions are free) that have relaxation exercises, as well as visual imagery. Here is an example that is available for free on YouTube:

 

 

 

 

Hot Topic: Bullying

Bullying has been in the news a lot in the past few years, and books, articles and movies have tried to help us better understand what happens when kids bully or are the victims of bullying. There has also been a lot of material developed for parents, teachers and other adults to help stop bullying. The Canadian organization – Promoting Relationships and Elimination Violence, or PREVNet for short – is constantly gathering and producing resources to help Canadians understand the impact of bullying on society.

 

PREVNet provides a number of statistics and facts about bullying in Canada. Here are few important ones:

  • The World Health Organization conducted a survey of boys and girls age 13 from around the world. Results in Canada showed that 17.8 % of boys and 11.6 % of girls bullied others 2 or more times in previous months
  • 17.8% of boys and 15.1 % of girls reported being a victim of bullying 2 or more times in previous months in the same study
  • Bullying is associated with several negative health outcomes, including headache and stomach pain, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, suicide, and poor school performance
  • One study reported that 60% of boys who bully others in elementary school had a criminal record by the age of 24 (Olweus, 1991)
  • Bullying happens at school, but it also happens in the community – anywhere that children and adolescents play, learn and live.

PREVNet highlights a number of signs and symptoms that parents, educators and other adults can watch for when a child is exhibiting bullying behaviour, or a victim of bullying. For example, children who bully others may be quick to anger, show little concern for others’ feelings, or not understand how their behaviour affects others. Children who are the victims of bullying may not want to go to school, become anxious or withdrawn, or may have trouble sleeping or nightmares.

Cyber-bullying has become a new way to bully others, and has gained attention in recent months due to a number of publicized victimizations that have led to serious consequences (e.g., 15 year-old Nova Scotia girl commits suicide, Supreme Court Facebook case). Here is a brief video about cyberbullying, featuring Dr. Debra Pepler, a psychologist and researcher at York University:

There are a number of resources available on the PREVNet website for kids, teens, and parents. In addition, other websites across Canada and internationally provide further research and resources for you to explore. See a list of some of these below:

Bully Beware – a website developed by 3 B.C. educators, providing resources, strategies and materials to help children understand and reduce bullying behaviour.

Bullying.org – a Canadian website dedicated to bullying prevention through educational programs and resources for individuals, families and communities. This website has been called one of the best websites in the world for children.

Cyberbullying.ca – a cyberbullying prevention website to help people better understand the internet, what cyberbullying is, and how to stop it.

Microsoft.com Digital Citizenship in Action – Microsoft provides a number of free guides and materials to help you and your family stay safe online and protect your information. This is not about bullying per se, but about keeping your information safe while on the internet.

The Bully Project – This website is by the people who made the documentary ‘Bully’ that was released on April 13th, 2011. They have a number of resources located on their website about bullying and prevention.

 

 

 

How to Maintain and Improve Our Brains

There are a number of websites and programs on the market today that advertise brain exercises and ways to stay ‘cognitively healthy’. However, there are also a number of simple ways to stay healthy and keep your brain functioning at it’s best. SharpBrains.com is a web resource co-founded by Alvaro Fernandez, a market and innovation analyst on neuroscience, and Dr. Elkonen Goldberg, an internationally renowned researcher and clinician. One article that was interesting on their website is written by Alvaro Fernandez, entitled ‘The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Brains‘. In this article, Alvaro mentions a variety of basic ways to maintain brain health, including proper nutrition, exercise and positive thinking. He also talks about how to challenge yourself with new activities and adventures. Laughter is also one ‘habit’ that can be easily accomplished. Check out the list and see if there are some easy things that you and/or your children can be doing.

http://www.sharpbrains.com/blog/2007/08/22/10-habits-of-highly-effective-brains/

 

Attachment in Infancy and Outcomes

The attachment between children and their caregivers has been studied for many years. Theories have been developed about attachment styles, parenting techniques that foster secure attachment, and the effects on social development. Dr. Daniel Siegel, a child and adolescent psychiatrist from UCLA, has written a number of books on early child development. He states that ‘attachment experiences early in life appear to have direct influences upon various basic processes, including forms of memory, narrative, emotional regulation, and interpersonal behavior.’

Two students from Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario – Dana Greenbaum and Andrea Wilkinson – have recently produced a video called ‘The Role of Attachment in Infancy and Physical Health Outcomes‘. This video has won the Psychology Foundation of Canada’s scholarship competition. A number of mental health professionals from Toronto are featured in the video, discussing attachment, stress, and parenting. Dr. Judith Andersen discusses the physiological stress response that happens in an individual. She states that if the stress response goes on too long in a child, it is thought to cause the child’s ‘system’ to malfunction. Insecure attachment has been linked to a number of negative outcomes throughout the lifespan, including depression, anxiety, withdrawal, aggression and physical illness. Dr. Leslie Atkinson makes a number of suggestions that are important in optimizing the relationship between a parent and child. These include being sensitive to your child’s need for affection and enjoying your child, while at the same time balancing your own needs and attending to the needs of the couple. I hope you enjoy this video.

Teen Mental Health

Mental health is an area that is easily neglected, and feelings of burn out in jobs and family life are all too common in today’s world. Learning to take care of yourself and monitor your mental health is something that can start at an early age. IWK Health Centre and Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, have developed a website providing a seemingly unending amount of material related to mental health in teens. It has ideas for parents, teenagers and professionals to help reduce the stigma of mental health, as well as strategies to cope with mental health issues.There are also guides for family members of individuals with mental health disorders, such as younger siblings (e.g., ‘My Brother/Sister Has a Mental Illness: A Guide for Young People Ages 11-16‘).

One section I found particularly interesting is about sleep in teenagers, with a slide show called ‘Why Teens Need Their Sleep’. Sleep is very important for learning and memory. The slide show states that teenagers need 8.5 to 9 hours of sleep each night, although many of them do not get that much. This is due to a change in the sleep cycle that happens during adolescence, resulting in teens being more likely to stay up late and sleep in. Research has also shown that teens perform better on tasks that measure reaction time (how quickly they respond to something) in the afternoon, which is likely related to the change in their sleep cycle. Teens report feeling more groggy in the morning, and need to expend more energy to complete their work. Things parents and teenagers can do to help with sleep issues is decrease late night stimulating activities (e.g., internet use, T.V., etc.), and bring awareness of these differences in adolescents to others, such as teachers, other parents and physicians.

 

http://teenmentalhealth.org/