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Abrigo partners with local school to virtually address teen mental health

Mental Health of Youth

By Teresa Emmanuel | Published 4/11/2020

This year is a year like no other for the last 100. COVID-19 has left millions of people impacted by its devastation. Seniors worry about getting necessities like food. Adults worry about their job and paying bills. Parents worry about sending their children to school and students worry about the impact the virus has on them and their relationships with friends and family.

Negative impact of the pandemic

Numerous surveys indicate that the pandemic has negatively affected the mental health of youth. School boards are struggling to implement a virtual curriculum amid the need to connect with youth to address their mental and emotional well-being. Teachers, guidance counsellors, social workers and child and youth workers are making efforts to connect with youth and provide support by reaching out to them while they are actually in school, as well as connecting virtually through online platforms.




The Effects of Social Media

The effects of social media and new technology have affected teens during the pandemic. COVID-19 has brought awareness of the importance of connection to our families, our friends, our communities, caring for ourselves, and the importance of cultivating safe and meaningful relationships in our lives.

The top issues facing teens today from surveys we have conducted are self-esteem, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, social media, and academic problems. We are working with teens to strategize on coping mechanisms and being resilient.

In general, many young people find it difficult to open up to an adult face-to-face. Time and patience is required to create a safe and positive space so that they can share their worries and concerns. In this accelerated age of digital platforms, it is a challenge to engage youth on online platforms let alone have them open up.

Abrigo Centre has created a new online program for youth with a Child and Youth worker at Loretto College to address healthy relationships and student mental health. Loretto is an all-girls Catholic school located at St Clair and Dufferin in Toronto. This pilot project is 10 weeks with an incentive for students to participate as time spent will count towards their mandatory volunteer hours.

Entitled Healthy You! Healthy Me! Building Resiliency and Mental Wellness, these virtual sessions are designed to allow teens to share their own authentic experiences in a safe space virtually. The main goal is to help students develop self-care strategies during COVID times to foster healthy relationships with themselves, their friends and family.

I asked grade 10, 11, and 12 students from Loretto how COVID-19 has affected them and how they have overcome its challenges. All students’ names have been changed to preserve confidentiality. Here are just a few and what they said:


“COVID-19 has had a huge impact on my life because this virus has stopped me from seeing my family. Me and my family are really close, on the weekends we would all get together and have a fun time like if there’s no tomorrow but since the COVID outbreak we haven’t seen each other in months and it’s hard not to be able to see the people you love the most in the world.”


“COVID 19 has changed my life in so many ways. My education has taken a huge toll because of the virus. I learn better in person. Because we needed to be quarantined, I was forced into learning online. Online learning made it easier to not try in school because of the basement mark that I earned before quarantine. It also made completing work harder since I had to share the technology in the house with others.”


“A benefit of quarantine was that I was able to focus on my self-love, which is particularly important. I feel like during quarantine I noticed all my insecurities, and that brought me down. How did I overcome this? Well, I learned to love myself and put myself first, and I started exercising which made me feel more empowered and motivated in life. Self-love is the most important love, and we should always love ourselves. I am starting to love who I am, more and more every day.”

The Abrigo Centre has been providing informative workshops on healthy relationships for close to 30 years. Students and young people are an agency priority and we will continue to work with the Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Catholic District School Board communities to help teens make better choices to improve their mental wellness.


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Teresa Emmanuel

Teresa is Abrigo’s Youth Outreach Workshop Facilitator, TAG-V (Teens Against Gender Based Violence) Facilitator, a program developer and works with families in distress. She is a registered Social Worker with a Master’s degree from York University and has years of experience working within local Toronto schools.

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